Press Release

Wisconsin Roadside Zoo Sued for Violating the Endangered Species Act and State Law

Animal Legal Defense Fund lawsuit charges Special Memories Zoo with illegally mistreating lions, tigers, gray wolves, and other animals

Contact: media@aldf.org

MADISON, WI – Tanya and Teagan are endangered tigers who are kept in small cages at the Special Memories Zoo, where witnesses have observed algae in the cages’ water tanks, food infested with maggots, and the straw used for bedding left soiled and unchanged for up to months on end. The mistreated tigers are among the 200-plus animals at the center of the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s lawsuit against the roadside zoo in Greenville, Wisconsin.

Today, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the nation’s preeminent legal advocacy organization for animals, filed a lawsuit against Special Memories Zoo for keeping the tigers and other animals in squalid conditions that violate the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as well as state laws protecting captive wild animals.

In September, the Animal Legal Defense Fund offered to transfer Tanya and Teagan, as well as the zoo’s other animals, to reputable sanctuaries at no cost to Special Memories Zoo. Given critical concerns about these animals’ safety and well-being — and Special Memories Zoo’s ongoing legal violations — the offer to transfer the animals to sanctuaries remains open.

“Special Memories Zoo’s treatment of Tanya and Teagan, and hundreds of other animals, is not just cruel but illegal. The Endangered Species Act and other laws exist to protect animals from exactly this sort of mistreatment,” says Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells. “We will pursue every legal avenue to ensure these animals are transferred to reputable sanctuaries where their needs will be met, in accordance with the law.”

Visitors have observed other sick and injured animals held in cramped, filthy cages without access to clean water. Ring-tailed lemurs have been observed without sufficient food or psychological enrichment. Endangered gray wolves are forced to live in small, muddy, enclosures. Black leopards, lions, Canada lynx, Japanese macaques, and other animals suffer in similarly inhumane and illegal conditions.

The zoo’s violations have been documented by federal authorities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has cited Special Memories Zoo multiple times for Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violations, including for animals housed in dirty enclosures, for lack of drinking water, and for food contaminated with rodent droppings. An employee was bitten by a bear after improperly interacting with the animal, according to a 2016 USDA report. The USDA has also cited the zoo for not having enough trained staff.

The problems at the Special Memories Zoo are not unique. Roadside zoos dot the American landscape, able to operate due to lax enforcement of existing laws on both a state and federal level.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund files lawsuits across the United States to protect animals held in captivity at roadside zoos, and advocates for stronger laws and better enforcement of existing laws. A recent lawsuit against Cricket Hollow Zoo — a roadside zoo in Manchester, Iowa, where the animals were kept in inhumane conditions violating Iowa’s animal cruelty standards — led to that zoo being effectively shut down and hundreds of animals sent to sanctuaries. An earlier federal lawsuit the Animal Legal Defense Fund brought against Cricket Hollow Zoo set the important precedent that the Endangered Species Act prohibits the inhumane treatment of captive animals.

A copy of the complaint is available upon request.


Say No to Roadside Zoos

Bears, lions, and other animals languish in roadside zoos across the country. Animals live in cruel conditions, confined to small cages without the enrichment they need to lead full, happy lives. Protect animals by boycotting roadside zoos.

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