Challenging the Treatment of Animals at Special Memories Zoo

The court permanently banned Special Memories Zoo, its owner, and manager from ever possessing or exhibiting animals — other than dogs or personal pets — again or working with any business that does so.

Updated

January 12, 2021

Work Type

Litigation

Status

Victory

Next Step

Case Closed 

In January 2021, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin permanently banned Special Memories Zoo, its owner, and manager from ever possessing or exhibiting animals — other than the dogs kept as their “personal pets” — again or working with any business that does so. The Animal Legal Defense Fund sued the zoo for keeping tigers, lemurs, and other animals in squalid conditions that violate the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as well as state laws protecting captive wild animals. 

Tanya and Teagan are endangered tigers who were kept in small cages at the Special Memories Zoo, where witnesses 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 that were at the center of the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s lawsuit in February 2020 against the roadside zoo in Greenville, Wisconsin. 

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

The zoo’s problems were documented by federal authorities. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cited Special Memories multiple times for Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violations, including for animals housed in polluted 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.  

Who is being sued, why, and under what law? Special Memories Zoo under the Endangered Species Act and Wisconsin public nuisance laws. 

What court is the lawsuit filed in? United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin 

Why this case is important: 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. 

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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Timeline

View:

  • Sep 2020

    District Judge William C. Griesbach rules in favor of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, allowing the case to proceed and permitting discovery to occur.

  • Aug 2020

    The Animal Legal Defense Fund asks the Outagamie County, Wisconsin, district attorney to reconsider a decision not to bring animal cruelty charges in response to the deaths of approximately 18 animals who were found dead, apparently from neglect, on the zoo owners’ property in March.

  • Jun 2020

    The Animal Legal Defense Fund responds to Special Memories Zoo’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that the case should continue because the zoo has not proven that it no longer holds an “ownership” stake in the animals who were transferred to other facilities or shown that the abuse will not recur; that the zoo is still liable under law for any future harm that may befall the animals; that the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s request for the animals to be transferred to reputable sanctuaries remains viable; and that the Animal Legal Defense Fund is still entitled to discovery in the case.

  • May 2020

    The Animal Legal Defense Fund asks the court to order the zoo to preserve evidence, citing the public’s interest in ensuring the well-being of the animals, and the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s right to conduct discovery in this ongoing legal matter. Meanwhile, Special Memories Zoo seeks to have the case dismissed as moot.

  • Apr 2020

    The Animal Legal Defense Fund asks the owners of Special Memories Zoo to preserve records related to the March barn fire that led to the deaths of multiple animals.

  • Mar 2020

    Special Memories Zoo announces its decision to close the zoo and find new placements for most of the animals, according to a letter their lawyer filed in federal court. The zoo begins to transfer animals to different facilities, while other animals remain in the zoo operators’ care. On March 24, a fire breaks out in a barn on the property, killing the animals inside. During a March 25 investigation into the cause of the fire, officers discover the remains of approximately 18 additional animals who had died in other parts of the property prior to the fire. These animals, including approximately 16 goats, a cow, and a tortoise, appear to have died as a result of the zoo’s neglect.

  • Feb 2020

    The Animal Legal Defense Fund files a lawsuit 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.

  • Sep 2019

    The Animal Legal Defense Fund sends notice of intent to sue for violations of the Endangered Species Act, state cruelty laws, and public nuisance statutes.

  • Apr 2019

    Country music artist Tanya Tucker asks the USDA to investigate Special Memories Zoo.

  • Apr 2017

    Special Memories Zoo purchases three lion cubs from Joe Exotic with G.W. Zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, the zoo featured in the hit Netflix documentary “Tiger King.”

  • May 2016

    The USDA files an official warning against the zoo. The document references a number of violations dated Feb. 25; May 11, 2015; May 4, 2015; and Aug. 13, 2014. The Feb. 25 finding noted a need for a “sufficient number of adequately trained employees” at the zoo.

  • Apr 2016

    The USDA cites the zoo for failing to provide drinking water to primates. The USDA cites the zoo multiple times for sanitation issues such as failure to remove excreta and soiled animal bedding.

  • Feb 2016

    An employee is bitten by a bear after improperly interacting with the animal.

  • May 2015

    The USDA cites the zoo for failing to provide drinking water to primates. The USDA cites the zoo multiple times for sanitation issues such as failure to remove excreta and soiled animal bedding.

  • Apr 2015

    On multiple occasions, a USDA inspector attempts to conduct an on-site inspection, but reports that a responsible adult is not available to facilitate it.

  • Aug 2014

    The USDA cites the zoo multiple times for sanitation issues such as failure to remove excreta and soiled animal bedding.

  • Nov 2013

    The zoo is cited by the USDA for failing to maintain written environmental enrichment plans for monkeys.

  • Jan 2013

    The zoo is cited by the USDA for failing to maintain written environmental enrichment plans for monkeys.

  • Dec 2011

    A USDA inspector attempts to conduct an on-site inspection, but reports that a responsible adult is not available to facilitate it.

  • Mar 2007

    A USDA inspector attempts to conduct an on-site inspection, but reports that a responsible adult is not available to facilitate it.

  • Feb 2007

    A USDA inspector attempts to conduct an on-site inspection, but reports that a responsible adult is not available to facilitate it.

  • Jul 2006

    The zoo is cited by the USDA for obtaining animals from a person who lacked a proper license.

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Location:

Wisconsin

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