USDA moves to close Collins Zoo

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  May/June 2013:

JACKSON,  Miss.––The USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service on May 14,  2003 disclosed the April 26,  2003 decision of a federal administrative law judge to revoke Collins Zoo owners Gus and Betty White’s exhibitors’ permit. Pending appeals,  the verdict may close the Collins Zoo,  located in the City of Collins alongside U.S. 49 in southeast Mississippi.  Ruth Ingram of the Jackson Clarion Ledger reported that the Collins Zoo has operated for 43 years.  NewspaperArchive.com indicates that there was a Collins Zoo in Mississippi in 1962-1964,  though not necessarily the same zoo. The Whites “have fought government agencies for nearly 25 years over animal confiscations, hundreds of alleged violations and a civil lawsuit,”  Ingram reported.  “Investigators said the Whites don’t have enough adequately trained employees to legally carry out husbandry for various types of animals,  and that the zoo failed to maintain adequate veterinary care,  disease control and prevention,  euthanasia,  and proper record keeping.  They said barriers between the public and animals were insufficient,  along with various other structural and cleanliness violations at the facility. Their complaint also said the zoo doesn’t provide wholesome and adequate food,  and does not remove animal feces and other contaminants from the facility.” The Whites contend they have been singled out for “unconstitutional” harassment. “The Whites moved to Collins from Louisiana in 1986,”  recalled Hattiesburg American staff writer Jesse Bass.  “In September 1986 the Mississippi Department of Wildlife,  Fish,  & Parks raided the zoo,  with a search warrant and arrest warrant for Gus White on charges of possession of protected animals without licenses or proper permits.” Forty-three alligators,  eight bobcats,  two skunks,  four raccoons,  an otter,  and a variety of snakes were seized on that occasion, but “Covington County Justice Court Judge Howard Folkes dismissed the criminal charges against White and ordered in November 1986 that the animals be returned to the zoo within 10 days,”  Bass continued.  “The animals’ return took nearly two years,  and Betty White said many of the animals had already died.” In 2001 the Mississippi Department of Wildlife impounded 69 animals from the Collins Zoo.  “Another justice court judge then ordered all the animals returned via a March 2002 order,”  Bass wrote.  When the animals were not returned,  allegedly because many had been released to the wild,  “Justice Court Judge George Thomas Sullivan entered an order in December 2003 holding the department in contempt,  and ordered the department to pay $60,750 in damages as reimbursement,”  Bass continued. Litigation originating from the 2001 raid continued until 2011.  Meanwhile an undercover investigator for the Humane Society of the U.S. worked as a volunteer at the Collins Zoo for 28 days,  collecting evidence that led to the reported confiscation of 17 turtles and an opossum in March 2010. The USDA-APHIS charges leading to revocation of the Whites’ exhibitors permit originated with a 47-count complaint filed in March 2012,  including mention of the deaths of a tiger,  an African lion,  a leopard,  a puma,  a wolf, and a dingo at the Collins Zoo between 2010 and 2012.  Animals still at the Collins Zoo as of mid-2012 included a 15-year-old caracal and a 29-year-old kinkajou,  believed to be the oldest in captivity.

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