MO: Auction of 450 exotics draws 1,000 people

Animal park’s residents head off to new homes
Auction of some 450 animals from Exotic Animal Paradise attracts about 1,000 people.

Didi Tang
News-Leader
Published October 14, 2006

Strafford — On Friday, Fred Stewart, a bird lover, was a happy man.

“What about a kiss?” the Rogersville man said to Chico, a cockatoo that was perching on his fingers.

The bird squawked back, and Stewart was all smiles.

“I can be in a room with 100 screaming birds,” he said. “It’s music to the ear.”

Stewart, once a volunteer at a bird sanctuary, had just paid about $1,100 for the cockatoo during a liquidation auction at Exotic Animal Paradise.

A tourism attraction for 35 years, the animal park closed on Oct. 1, several months after owner Ron Armitage sold the park land to a developer.

On Friday, the park drew about 1,000 interested buyers and spectators, who were roving from pen to pen and cage to cage.

They followed a truck, from which two auctioneers from Macon solicited bids continuously for 91/2 hours.

Armitage auctioned off all animals at the park — about 450 of them — to animal lovers, zoo keepers and farmers from around the country.

Today, the auction will continue to dispose of equipment and tools.

About 500 bidding cards were given out to bidders Friday, Armitage said.

He said the animals were going to safe homes.

“A lot of people have come to me and said, ‘Don’t worry, they’re all going to great homes,’ ” Armitage said, adding that he didn’t spot any bidder representing ill- reputed buyers.

Jerry Austin, a Webster County agent for the Missouri Department of Conservation, was on the scene to make sure the black bears and cougars at the park — which are indigenous to Missouri — were sold to buyers with the proper paperwork.

An Illinois man bought them, Armitage said.

Agents from the U.S. Department of Agriculture also were at the auction to ensure animal rules were followed, Armitage said.

Chico is going to a good home, said Stewart, who also tried to bid on Casper, another cockatoo.

“I was so envious of them,” said Stewart, who fell in love with the birds when he visited the animal park for the first time earlier this year.

But Casper will go to Liberty Hill Animal Land Zoo in Granville, N.Y., which bid $1,150 for the bird.

Owned by John and Beverly DeGraff, the zoo also bought Spidey, a well-liked spider monkey at the Paradise.

Spidey’s purchase was the final straw for Brenda Armitage, Ron’s wife, who broke down and cried.

As she wept in a golf cart, Ron Armitage turned away, silent.

Minutes later, Brenda Armitage said with a sad smile: “It’s too far away for me to see him.”

Spidey was sold for about $2,250, she said.

David and Dianne Boyer of Hidden Oak Farms in Haughton, La., were also looking for animals for the private petting zoo.

“It’s a perfect chance to have what we don’t have,” Dianne Boyer said.

They bought a turtle for $650. “They usually go for over $1,000,” Boyer said.

A Savannah cat, which went for $675, also will go to their zoo. “We don’t have any cats,” Boyer explained.

In addition, the couple bought a pair of coatimundis, a baby buffalo, a yak, a llama and a wallaby, she said.

Earl Hogan, 71, does not have a zoo to run. The Warrenton man had another reason to spend about $11,000 for five head of Indu Brazil cattle.

“I like to look at good things,” said Hogan, who raises horses on a farm outside Warrenton.

Or maybe Don Wiedner, his farmhand, can ride on the bull.

Or maybe he will sell the calves from the pregnant cows in the spring.

“I’m silly,” Hogan said. “I’m an old man. I’ve got to enjoy things.”

A few hours later, he bid $90 for an iguana.

“It’s for my grandkid,” he said. “I don’t know what it’s worth.”

Lori Scott of Buffalo also bought an iguana for $90 as a family pet.

“We’re keeping it at home,” she said.

For Dominic Conti of Reeds Spring, the auction was the place for bargains.

By mid-morning, he bought a female llama for $200 and then a male llama for another $200.

He also got a pair of donkeys for $400.

“It’s half price of what it usually costs,” Conti said. “It’s a good deal.”

The family has a 325-acre farm in the Galena area, and the animals will be used for breeding, he said.

Scott Thompson of Branson just wanted to have more animals for his recreational farm.

“We love animals,” said Thompson, who won the first bid on Friday for a $200 llama.

It was such a busy a day at the park that Connie Uchtman, who has worked at Exotic Animal Paradise for the past 81/2 years, did not know who bought her favorite animal, a baby baboon called Jojo.

“We’ve said goodbye,” Uchtman said. “Lots of hugs and kisses.”

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