Missouri: Exotic Animal Paradise shuts its gates, animals up for auction

Ron Armitage says the land’s new owner did not purchase business.

News-Leader Staff
Published October 3, 2006

Strafford — The empty parking lot is locked, most workers are gone, and about 500 animals are spending their last few days at Exotic Animal Paradise.
The animals — which include zebras, bears and lions — will be auctioned off next week.

After 35 years, the drive-through park has closed its gates. It was last open to the public Sunday, and in two weeks the business will no longer exist.

“I have very mixed emotions,” said owner Ron Armitage on Monday afternoon from inside a truck. “I had a wonderful team of employees, whom I would miss, and we’d come to have the animals as part of the family.”

Early Monday, Armitage laid off all the employees except the six-person animal staff, who will stay behind to take care of the animals until they are auctioned off.

“This is not a surprise to the employees,” Armitage said.

About 10 employees — most of them students working part time — were let go Monday, said Armitage.

“No one is keeping the job,” he said. “We’re closed.”

It is unclear whether Tony Oddo, who has purchased the 465 acres where the 225-acre animal park is located, will reopen the attraction.

He could not be reached for comment Monday.

The Lake of the Ozarks-area developer said in June said he wanted to sell the land for luxury homes.

Then, in late July, Oddo announced his plan to reopen the park.

During the busy summer season at the park, Oddo expressed an interest in buying the business, said Armitage, who sold the land to Oddo but has been leasing the park land back for the business.

The lease ends Nov. 1, Armitage said.

“We talked about (the business sale),” said Armitage. “He chose not to do it.”

“He is not going to buy the business. That’s for certain,” Armitage said.

The decision to close the animal park was first made public in June.

Flat revenue, rising operation costs and changes in regulations were reasons to call it quits, said Armitage, who purchased the attraction in 1996.

Pat Jones, father of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, founded the park in 1971.

The park was ranked by the Springfield Convention and Visitors Bureau among the top four tourist draws in the Springfield area with around 190,000 visitors a year.

As for the animals, their fate will be decided Oct. 13-14 when auctioneers from Lolli Brothers Livestock Market Inc. of Macon raise their gavels.

The auction will begin at 9 a.m. each day.

As for Armitage himself, “I’ll probably take it easy for a couple of months,” he said. “I’ll be involved in tourism in the region.”

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