Press Release

Complaint Demands USDA Revoke Animal Welfare Act License from Texas Exhibitor Jason Clay

Clay has a demonstrated history of noncompliance with the law at his facilities, Franklin Drive Thru Safari and East Texas Zoo and Gator Park


WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a complaint urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to investigate and enforce the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) against licensee Jason Clay who is doing business in Texas as two entities, Franklin Drive Thru Safari and East Texas Zoo & Gator Park. For nearly seven years, Clay has been unable to demonstrate compliance with the AWA as required to maintain his existing exhibitor’s license because he has repeatedly violated not only the Act, but also other federal laws governing the care of animals at his facilities, including the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

Under Clay’s current license, he holds nearly 700 individual animals at his facilities, including endangered and threatened species protected under the ESA. Clay’s exhibitor’s license expires on May 4, 2022. Due to recent changes to the USDA licensing process — spurred, in part, by litigation filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund against the agency, Clay will have to demonstrate he can comply with the AWA at his facilities in order to obtain a new license. His pervasive history of repeated AWA noncompliance, which has resulted in serious neglect, abuse, lack of veterinary care, and deplorable living conditions for the animals confined at his facilities, is demonstrative of his inability to do so.

Clay’s first inspection in 2014 led to his first USDA Citation and Notification of Penalty, which was for drugging a Grevy’s Zebra during the filming of a television show and allowing the zebra to be forcibly pulled to the ground. This incident led to USDA citing Clay in January 2017 and issuing a civil penalty of $1,750. There have been at least 14 USDA inspections at Clay’s facilities, through which Clay has shown over seven years of chronic AWA noncompliance. Clay’s chronic history of AWA violations is most recently documented in four USDA inspections in 2021. Taken together, the reports reveal 24 AWA violations in the year 2021 alone — one being a Critical Non-Compliance concerning Clay’s failure to provide adequate veterinary care to at least two animals — a young giraffe who suffered from a “twisted gut” and a pygmy hippo — resulting in their death. This is the second giraffe under Clay’s care that has died in the course of a year. Another calf named Azizi, whose mother, named April, gave birth to him during a livestream with more than a million viewers around the world, also died of a reported twisted gut in October 2020 at one of Clay’s facilities.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is calling on the USDA to further investigate Clay because of mounting evidence of mistreatment to animals and staff. Such information includes an East Texas Zoo & Gator Park employee posting a video on her TikTok in November 2020 displaying wounds and cuts she sustained from an animal attack — an incident suggestive of inadequate training and supervision, both violations of the AWA.

“As the USDA is aware, the AWA and its implementing regulations prohibit the issuance of licenses to exhibitors like Jason Clay who are not in compliance with legal standards,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “If followed, the new USDA licensing process should prohibit the issuance of licenses to exhibitors like Clay who cannot show compliance with the AWA.”

Clay’s inadequate care of animals exhibited under his license has resulted in violations of both the AWA and the ESA. In August 2018, a sheriff’s deputy from the Van Zandt County Sheriff’s department, the jurisdiction covering Clay’s East Texas & Gator Park’s facility, was dispatched there at the behest of its manager, Logan Daw. Daw had contacted the sheriff’s office complaining that three red lemurs had been missing for five days. Daw recounted to the deputy that he had visited and noticed the lemur cage was unlocked “with the clip on the ground.” When he informed Clay, he was told “to go out and look for them to make sure they just didn’t run off from the premises.” Daw stated to the deputy that he had searched for the lemurs for several days but could not find them. After Daw reported to Clay that he still could not find the lemurs, Clay allowed him to finally contact the sheriff’s office. Inspections conducted by the USDA confirm the lemurs permanently disappeared, suggesting the lemurs died in the East Texas environs.

Clay obtained ownership of East Texas & Gator Park after trafficking wildlife for the facility.  According to recent videos Clay posted on his own Facebook page, which he has since removed, he kept dozens of red-ruffed lemurs and ring-tailed lemurs in tiny, stacked cat carriers presumably prepared for transport and sale. Drastic fluctuations in the number and type of animals kept at both of his facilities further suggest he is continuing to sell and transfer animals protected under the AWA and ESA without required permits — activities not authorized under his AWA exhibitor license.

Photo Credit: Franklin Drive Thru Safari

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