7/27/2006 8:48 AM
By: Associated Press and Brad Broders, News 14 Carolina
ROCKWELL, N.C. — A raid at a private zoo uncovered drugs, guns and illegal video poker machines, authorities said Wednesday.
Steve Macaluso, the owner of Metrolina Wildlife Park, might face several felony charges, said Sgt. Tony Sharum of the state Wildlife Resources Division. He might also face misdemeanor charges related to the number of animals he kept and how he kept them.
State, federal and local law enforcement officials took part in the raid at the zoo, which used to be called the Charlotte Metro Zoo. Sharum said Wildlife Resources got a tip that Macaluso was keeping protected animals without proper permits. He was also accused of holding them improperly. State and federal laws dictate minimum standards for cage size and sanitation.
“We treat every violation seriously and take due caution,” Sharum said. “Animal welfare is very important.”
Acting on the tip, the agency sent an undercover agent to the zoo. That led to Tuesday’s raid.
“Very rarely do we have to go to the extreme to do search warrants and things of that nature, but many times we have to do that,” Sharum said.
Wildlife Resources handed Macaluso misdemeanor charges Tuesday, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will issue civil fines by mail, Sharum said.
Sharum expects warrants to be served soon for the drugs, guns and eight to 10 poker machines that were found at the zoo. State law says a permit is required to store more than five video poker machines.
Macaluso, speaking to News 14 Carolina, said the video poker machines were covered in dust from a business he had years ago in New Jersey. He also said he had no idea permits were necessary for some of the native animals that were seized in the raid. He claims he has permits for his zoo’s exotic animals.
This is not Macaluso’s first run-in with authorities. Wildlife Resources cited him for illegally keeping a cougar at his Union County house, Sharum said. He was also convicted of assault on a government official after fighting with a wildlife officer in Union County.
In 2003, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals complained after a female leopard bit Macaluso. That resulted in an investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The Metrolina Wildlife Park remains open to the public.
Carole Baskin, Founder of Big Cat Rescue
12802 Easy Street
Tampa, FL 33625 MakeADifference@BigCatRescue.org