By Joshua M. Rinaldi , Freeman staff
CATSKILL - Almost half of the animals at the now-closed Catskill Game Farm were quietly auctioned off on Wednesday with no sign of the protesters who picketed near the zoo on its closing weekend.
More than 200 people attended the auction at the Catskill Game Farm, off state Route 32 in Catskill. The auctioneer traveled around the zoo on the back of the truck as potential bidders followed on foot. The auction call took place near the animals being sold to allow bidders to get a look.
But not all of the 200 visitors were bidding. Some were just visiting the facility one last time.
Carol Clement, a Preston Hollow resident, said she was doing limited bidding because a lot of the animals were expensive or being sold in groups. But she surmised that was better for the animals.
"I felt like it was a historic event to be here. Part of it was just the curiosity," she said. "I have a farm, if I find an animal that needed a home."
The auction, the subject of scrutiny and criticism from animal rights advocates since the announcement in August that the Catskill Game Farm would close, did not go off completely without its skeptics. Chief among them on Wednesday was the Humane Society of the United States, which sent workers to monitor the auction.
"There are three of us inside (the auction)," said Andrew Page, campaign manager of the Humane Society's hunting campaign. "Basically, we're observing and monitoring the whole auction all day today."
The Humane Society's main goal is to determine if anyone known to be connected with "canned hunt" operations, which provide the opportunity to shoot exotic animals at close range, were bidding on the animals. Animals connected with Catskill Game Farm have ended up in canned hunts before, so there is reason for concern, Page said.
Game Farm owner Kathie Schulz said she welcomed the visitors from the Humane Society because they would see that everything was in order. Schulz has said previously that the prior incident of he animals winding up in canned hunts was a misunderstanding involving her ex-husband's exporting business.
"We want them here because we want them to see how we ran the operation," she said of the Humane Society employees. "You have no idea what we have gone through to find suitable homes for the animals."
Schulz said members of her family are keeping a large portion of the Game Farm's nearly 2,000 animals for their private collections. Other animals, such as cats, were going to sanctuaries, and some, like bears, were going to breeders.
Precautions, like removing the horns from deer, were taken because no canned hunt operation would want animals without horns, she said.
About 1,000 animals were on the auction block on Wednesday.
Schulz called Wednesday the end of an era and said she has received an outpouring of correspondence since she announced the 73-year-old Catskill Game Farm would close. Most has been positive, she said, adding that protesters who turned out for the zoo's closing earlier this month were not representative of the population.
"The protest was ridiculous," she said. "There were 14 people I counted (protesting) down the road and 13,000 through the gate (visiting)."
The state Department of Environmental Conservation also was at the Game Farm on Wednesday to monitor the sale of certain species and preapprove some buyers for the permits they would need. But out of dozens of species for sale, permits were required for only six: yak, black swan, vervet monkey, American alligator, Burmese python and green anaconda.
Schulz said no endangered animals would be auctioned. However, the World Wildlife Fund does list some of the animals up for sale, such as white rhinoceros and yak, as near endangered or vulnerable.