Reporter: Chris Grogan, firstname.lastname@example.org
In just weeks, a tourism mainstay in the Ozarks will shut its gates for good. The owners of Exotic Animal Paradise say economic factors mean it`s just not feasible to keep the operation running. So what`s going to happen to the hundreds of animals there?
During KOLR 10’s investigation, it came as a surprise how big the exotic animal trade industry is. The money and animals exchanging hands amounts to millions of dollars each year. Yet, it`s also an industry that has few regulations and a lot of the trade is happening right here in Missouri.
It`s a place that attracts people from across the country. Since 1971, families have been winding through Exotic Animal Paradise, stopping to feed the camels, llamas, and various other species. With around 800 animals, the park is one of the largest drive-through facilities in the country. So, many were surprised with the announcement that these gates would close for good.
“This has been a major tourist attraction for 35 years and there were certain obstacles that I didn`t want to try and overcome.” says Ron Armitage, owner of Exotic Animal Paradise.
Just weeks after the gates close in October, they will open for one final time for what Armitage calls “a dispersal sale.”
On October 13th, everything will be sold-off, including the hundreds of exotic animals.
Armitage says, “It`ll be advertised nationally. There will be probably five to six hundred people that will come probably from out of the area.”
It`s a sale that`s also attracting some big time attention from animal advocates.
Nancy Grove with the St. Louis-based Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation says, “It may come as a surprise to some of those people that these animals are not necessarily going to be sold at auction to someone who`s going to let the animals live out their days and see to its needs until it dies from natural causes.”
Grove says there`s a long history of petting zoos selling animals at these auctions to dealers, who then turn around and sell the animals to canned hunting facilities.
She says, “More properly, it should be referred to as hunting animals in confined spaces.”
Indeed, most of these canned hunt facilities rely on exotic animals because of their prized trophy racks. But it`s those exotic animals that have been tamed that fetch the most.
“If they are sold to a hunting facility of some kind, they`re probably not going to behave in any other way. They`re not going to show the traditional fear of humans. They`re not going to run at the sight of guns, but rather stay pretty much where they are.” says Grove.
Yet, it`s not just animal rights groups that are concerned about these exotic animals winding up as hunting trophies. Mainstream hunting organizations shun the practice. They say it just doesn`t fit in with the concept of fair chase where the hunter and animal are on the same level.”
George Bettas is with the Boone and Crockett Club, based in Missoula, Montana. He says, “We want to continue raising the bar and to give the animal the advantage, rather than the hunter the advantage.”
The organization was founded on the concept of fair chase more than 100 years ago. And this organization is not alone. In fact, most of the major mainstream hunting organizations shun canned hunting facilities as part of the sport. At Boone and Crockett, those hunts are referred to as “canned shoots”.
Bettas says, “Because they are simply shooting animals that do not have the same advantage as wild animals, that are free ranging and have to escape the hunter.”
Nancy Grove agrees. “Unfortunately, there are not enough sanctuaries and refugees in the United States, much less in Missouri, for all of those animals to live out their lives until they die of natural causes.”
Advocates also say most zoos are too full to even consider accepting more adult animals. For his part, Armitage says he`s going to do everything he can to make sure the animals end up in safe havens to live out their lives.
He says, “We want to make sure they have good homes. These animals have been a part of our lives for a long time.”
Animal rights advocates say that can only happen with plenty of time to find good homes, an ideal they`re hoping will become the reality here.
During KOLR 10’s investigation, we found out a company called “Lolli Brothers Auctions” will be conducting the October dispersal sale. It`s actually one of the largest auctioneers of exotic animals and is based in Macon, Missouri.
When KOLR 10 spoke to a representative from there on Thursday, he said there`s no way to prevent these animals from ending up in canned hunting facilities saying quote “when money`s there, who knows.”
Also, once the Humane Society of the United States found out about KOLR 10’s investigation, it began its own investigation. It’s sent letters to the U.S Department of Agriculture, asking that department closely monitor October`s sale. Meanwhile, Ron Armitage tells KOLR 10 he welcomes the scrutiny and believes it will help make sure the animals don`t end up in the wrong hands.
Air Date: 9/14/2006