Press Release

King Kong Zoo Permanently Shut Down After Being Sued by The Animal Legal Defense Fund

Consent Decree Closes Unaccredited Roadside Zoo and Bars Owner from Working with Wild Animals


ASHEVILLE, N.C. In another victory for captive animals, a lawsuit filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund has permanently closed the inhumane King Kong Zoological Park. The unaccredited roadside menagerie in Murphy, N.C., shut down shortly after the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed suit, and a recent Consent Decree ensures its doors remain closed forever.

In April 2014, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, with pro bono assistance from Winston & Strawn LLP, filed the lawsuit on behalf of local Murphy residents Charlene Salzer, Mary Elder, and Martha Buffington, alleging the zoo’s cruel treatment of animals violated North Carolina’s animal cruelty laws. The lawsuit exposed the appalling conditions at the zoo, which had been repeatedly cited by state and federal regulators.

The zoo confined wild animals, including bears, tigers and a lonely chimpanzee, in exhibits that were too small, too barren and too poorly maintained to meet the basic biological needs of these complex species. Renowned experts in veterinary medicine and animal behavior from Duke University, the University of Tennessee and the San Diego Zoo stated that the deprived conditions at King Kong Zoo amounted to animal cruelty. Many of the animals had untreated medical conditions and exhibited clear signs of physical distress and psychological desperation. The Consent Decree prohibits the owner of the zoo from owning or working with any wild, nonnative or exotic animals for 15 years.

“Roadside zoos are a travesty in the world of animal display,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “Far too often these facilities are ill-equipped to provide appropriate and humane living conditions for captive animals and violate animal protection laws. When law enforcement fails them, the Animal Legal Defense Fund turns to the courts to ensure that the laws are upheld.”

In 2015, the Animal Legal Defense Fund secured a groundbreaking precedent in the King Kong Zoo case when the North Carolina Court of Appeals held that the state’s unique civil animal cruelty law provides additional protections to those of federal law. North Carolina’s civil animal cruelty law empowers concerned members of the public to stop animal cruelty when criminal animal cruelty laws go ignored and under-enforced, as they did at the King Kong Zoo. The recent Consent Decree comes just months after the Animal Legal Defense Fund secured a groundbreaking victory using the Endangered Species Act to remove endangered lions, tigers and lemurs from a roadside zoo in Iowa, and successfully rehomed a wolf and two bears from a Pennsylvania roadside zoo.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is the nation’s preeminent legal advocacy organization for animals.