Unusual histories are almost the norm among exotic animal keepers
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2002:
DALLAS–Enthusiasts of exotic and dangerous animals are
almost by definition unusual people–and that poses one of the
perennial complications of the sanctuary dilemma.
Many and perhaps most sanctuarians became involved with
dangerous and exotic animals through breeding, trafficking,
exhibiting, and/or performing with them. They may obtain nonprofit
status, and may actually do a significant amount of animal rescuing
between continuing previous activities under the name of a sanctuary,
yet even then may contribute more to the proliferation of dangerous
and exotic wildlife in private hands than to containing it.
Some people calling themselves sanctuarians still breed and
sell animals, some still admit unescorted members of the public to
their facilities just as roadside zoos would, some continue to
exhibit animals on tour, and some continue to perform with animals,
all of which are contrary to the philosophies of The Association of
Sanctuaries and the American Sanctuary Association.
TAOS and the ASA, the two largest of at least four
organizations purporting to represent sanctuaries, have 69
accredited sanctuary members between them. Fifteen sanctuaries are
accredited by both bodies.
Among their continuing subjects of frequently heated internal
debate is when and how far they ought to bend their standards to
accommodate sanctuarians whose intent seems sincere but whose
practices blur the lines distinguishing sanctuaries from other kinds
of dangerous and exotic animal businesses.
Only a handful of the TAOS and ASA founders and leaders,
among them Martine Colette of Wildlife Waystation, Wally Swett of
Primarily Primates, and Lynn Cuny of Wildlife Rescue &
Rehabilitation, actually began as rescuers and rehabilitators.
Several of the most prominent were performers, including Pat
Derby of the Performing Animal Welfare Society and Tippi Hedren of
the Shambala Sanctuary. Others were exotic petkeepers with breeding
ambitions, like Carol Asvestas of Wild Animal Orphanage a.k.a. the
Animal Sanctuary of the U.S., who changed their directions and
outlooks upon becoming aware of the surplus of exotic and dangerous
animals, and the miserable fates of many of them.
The ex-performers and breeders are often the strongest voices
in opposition to compromise. Both Derby and Asvestas, in
conversations with ANIMAL PEOPLE nearly eight years apart, likened
keeping exotic and dangerous animals for exploitive purposes to drug
addiction. Both asserted that a sincere and effective sanctuarian
must quit all breeding and commercial-style exhibition absolutely and
irrevocably to be worthy of accreditation.
The history of the G.W. Exotic Animal Foundation in
Wynnewood, Oklahoma, includes many of the common twists and turns,
and the jury of peers in the sanctuary field is still considering
what to make of founder Joe Schreibvogel.
Schreibvogel operated an exotic pet store called Super Pet
with his brother Garold in Arlington, Texas, until Garold was
killed in an October 1997 truck crash.
Joe Schreibvogel was also identified by the Dallas Morning
News as co-operator, with a man named Jim Claytor, of a wildlife
rescue service called Nature’s Hope.
In February 1999, police in Plano, Texas, found 69 dead
emus and about 160 others cannibalizing their remains on the property
of housing developer and former emu speculator Kuo-Wei Lee.
Schreibvogel and Claytor took possession of the survivors and hauled
most of them to a ranch about 50 miles away, to await relocation to
permanent sanctuary. When they could not catch all of the emus,
Schreibvogel and Claytor allegedly shot at least six of them. SPCA
of Texas chief cruelty investigator Bobby French videotaped the
shootings, but the Ellis County grand jury refused to indict
Schreibvogel and Claytor. Schreibvogel then filed a defamation suit
against the SPCA of Texas, claiming that their release of the video
to news media had hurt sales at Super Pet.
Schreibvogel sold Super Pet soon afterward, and in October
1999 opened the G.W. Exotic Animal Foundation in his brother’s memory.
Despite Schreibvogel’s past history as an exotic animal
dealer, and despite whatever harm to his reputation occurred as
result of the emu incident, the number of animals seeking sanctuary
space is so large at all times now that within two years he had taken
in 89 big cats and 1,100 other exotics, with 23 tigers on a waiting
list, he told Angela Wilson of the Springfield (Missouri)
Schreibvogel had also become an outspoken critic of dangerous
and exotic animal stores and auctions, and an advocate of
legislation to stop the traffic, according to Wilson.
Schreibvogel became something of a public hero in August
2001, after taking in three severely emaciated bears who were seized
by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from Russian circus trainer
Alexander Shelovnikov. A sheriff’s deputy found the bears in a truck
in McClain County, Oklahoma, while investigating a claim by truck
owner Sylven Steeples that Shelovnikov had violated a protective
order she had obtained against him.
Shelovnikov at last report was free on bail awaiting trial on
state charges of assault and battery and felony cruelty to animals.
Federal wildlife charges were pending.
Schreibvogel nursed the bears back to health. He told Ellie
Sutter of The Oklahoman that readers of her coverage of the bears’
plight brought him $17,400 in donations–about 25%, he later
estimated, of their projected total cost of care and housing.
But Schreibvogel meanwhile ran into trouble with the Oklahoma
Wildlife Department for allegedly operating unsafe road shows.
“We know we have some young kids being put in enclosures with
large animals,” charged Oklahoma assistant attorney general
Elizabeth Sharrock in July 2002.
“The park takes as many as 30 animals on the road. The
animals are kept in cages and the park solicits donations at the
shows,” reported Bob Doucette of The Oklahoman, after Schreibvogel
won a temporary injunction that allowed the road shows to continue.
“The animal park has been a destination of choice for state
officials and other entities needing a place to house animals who
don’t normally live in Oklahoma,” Doucette continued. “The cost of
housing these animals is also a legal matter in the case. The animal
park is seeking $168,000 from the state to help defray costs,”
reported at $89,735 on IRS Form 990 for fiscal 2000, against revenue
But G.W. Exotics did not report paying any salaries in 2000.
If salaries were paid to the staff of five people shown on the G.W.
Exotics web site, the sanctuary probably would have lost money.
Though fellow sanctuarians have mixed views of Schreibvogel
and G.W. Exotics, many sympathize with his bid for compensation for
taking care of animals confiscated by government agencies. Many of
the animals, like the Shelovnikov bears, are–or were–evidence in
criminal court cases.
“The continual stream of unwanted and neglected animals and
the financial burden created by the USDA [and other law enforcement
agencies] should not fall on the heads of sanctuaries,”
then-American Sanctuary Association president and Wild Animal
Orphanage a.k.a. Animal Sanctuary of the U.S. founder Carol Asvestas
wrote to former Agriculture Secretary Daniel Glickman in August 2000.
Hoping to establish a compensatory principle in connection
with sanctuary care of seized animals, Asvestas appended to her
letter to Glickman a list of more than 100 large carnivores who came
to ASA member sanctuaries within the preceding two years as result of
USDA actions. Their care cumulatively cost upward of $500,000 per
After Republican candidate George W. Bush won the 2000
presidential election, Glickman was replaced. Bush, as Texas
governor preceding his U.S. Presidency, was friendly to ward the
exotic animal industry, vetoing legislation which would have
restricted it. Efforts to get the USDA to provide compensation for
animal care are still under sporadic discussion, but have not
advanced, and according to the accounts of various participants,
have refocused on topics such as sanctuary accreditation,
regulation, and just who speaks for the sanctuary community,
anyway? Given the deep differences of opinion among sanctuarians
about almost everything, including matters as basic as the
definition of “sanctuary,” that may be the most problematic
question. (See the ANIMAL PEOPLE July/August 2002 cover feature,
“Is sanctuary an illusion?”)
Among the odd twists of the representation issue is the
recent emergence of Kim Khouri Haddad, DVM, of San Carlos,
California, as a self-designated spokesperson for much of the
sanctuary community and sanctuary liaison to the American Zoo
Association–even though few leading sanctuarians and AZA
representatives who maintain relations with the ASA and TAOS seem to
know much about her.
Four AZA senior staff members and chairs of committees and
panels that Haddad has been involved with told ANIMAL PEOPLE that
they barely know her, but each believed she was well-known to some
of the others.
Haddad currently “heads up a committee including the
Performing Animal Welfare Society, Humane Society of the U.S., the
Fund for Animals, The Association of Sanctuaries, and others,”
American Sanctuary Association executive director Vernon Weir told
ANIMAL PEOPLE, “which is working on issues relating to exotics. ASA
was intentionally excluded,” Weir charged, after the ASA board
members and other representatives who attended a June 17 meeting of
ASA and TAOS leadership convened by Haddad in San Antonio unanimously
rejected her version of the minutes and her appointment of the
members of the committee, which she introduced as a “steering
committee” to represent the entire accredited sanctuary community.
The Haddad minutes included a mention that a primary purpose
of the meeting was to raise funds for Kimya, an organization begun
by Haddad, whose web site represents it to be a “true sanctuary”
even though it as yet appears to have no land and no animals. Kimya
is currently promoting a November 2002 climb of Mt. Kilimanjaro,
Kenya, as a fundraiser, at $5,000 per person.
Haddad is also on the advisory board of the Ahali Sanctuary,
planned by longtime circus performer Ivor David Balding, who
according to the Ahali web site expects that the 600-acre Balding
family farm in South Carolina “will be gifted by the family to Ahali”
to make the venture possible.
Ahali has one elephant: Flora, 20, star performer of his
Circus Flora for 17 years, still performing as recently as June 16,
2002, but boarded at the Miami MetroZoo for much of the past two
Balding in April 2000 told Ellen Futterman of the St. Louis
Post-Dispatch that he intended to retire Flora to a refuge in
Botswana to breed–just as Botswana, claiming an elephant surplus,
joined with Zimbabwe and Namibia to make another of many attempts to
roll back the global ban on international ivory sales imposed by the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in 1988. Yet
another such effort is underway now, also supported by South Africa
Flora was never flown to Botswana, but Balding apparently
did not give up the notion of breeding her.
“Cristina Colissimo, listed as the Ahali secretary, told me
in April 2001 that Flora was wintering in Florida in the hope of
getting her pregnant,” said ASA executive director Weir,
questioning the involvement of an authentic sanctuary in breeding.
Asked by ANIMAL PEOPLE about her association with Balding,
and about the breeding issue, Haddad claimed to “have no knowledge”
of anything relevant.
Her own history seemed a tad shaky.
According to the Kimya web site, Haddad “works as a small
animal veterinarian in the San Francisco Bay Area. She left a Wall
Street career to pursue her dream…While working as a veterinarian
in Jacksonville, Florida,” the site continues, “Kim spent a great
deal of time at the Jacksonville Zoological Gardens from 1994 to
1998.. Currently, she works as a consulting and relief veterinarian
for the San Francisco Zoo.”
Inquiries by ASA board members found that Haddad did not seem
to be well known at either the Jacksonville Zoo, which has had heavy
turnover in recent years, or the San Francisco Zoo, where her name
was found on a roster of local vets who could be called in event of
Haddad did not actually become a veterinarian until 1997.
But Haddad was in Jacksonville during the time in question. Douglas
S. Looney and John Walters of Sports Illustrated identified her in
June 1994 as one of seven former employees of the Mandarin Veterinary
Clinic near Jacksonville who exposed improper payments to members of
the Florida State University national championship football team by
FSU Seminoles booster Rick Blankenship, DVM, the clinic owner. The
scandal was among the biggest in the recent history of college
Hazy backgrounds and connections are, however, almost the
norm in dangerous and exotic animal-keeping.
Sometimes the mystery is how more than 40 wallabies came to
inhabit Isle Inchcoonachan in Loch Lomond, Scotland, thriving there
for nearly 30 years, or how obstetrician Arthur Stehly, 63, came
to have a female pygmy hippopotamus in his back yard in Escondido,
California, seized by wildlife officials on January 28 and now
reportedly en route to the Black Beauty Ranch sanctuary operated by
the Fund for Animals in Murchison, Texas.
Sometimes it is why the Nashville Zoo sold three tigers in
November 2000 to one Marcus Cook, of Kaufman, Texas. Cook was
identified to ANIMAL PEOPLE by Dallas attorney Robert “Skip” Trimble
as “very proactive in trying to defeat the Dangerous Wild Animal
Bill, which recently became law in Texas,” and later, in “rallying
the keepers of dangerous wild animals to sue the counties and the
state,” seeking to overturn the bill.
Now president of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Trimble
previously served on the boards of several Texas sanctuaries, and
was instrumental in winning passage of the Dangerous Wild Animal Bill.
Other Texas sanctuarians confirmed Trimble’s recollection,
but American Zoo Association program assistant Vicki L. Duckett
described Cook as a supporter of the bill in an article posted to the
AZA web site.
Nashville Zoo director Jim Bartoo never answered the March
2002 inquiry from ANIMAL PEOPLE about why he sold Cook the
tigers–and neither did Cook, but Cook called ANIMAL PEOPLE a few
days later to demand “an address for service,” prefacing the call
with a police-style warning that the conversation was being recorded.
Cook is a former police officer.
“Denton County prosecutors have dismissed several cases in
which former Lake Dallas police Sgt. Marcus Cook was the only state
witness,” The Dallas Morning News reported in August 1998,
“because of concerns about his credibility. Cook quit his Lake
Dallas job last fall during an investigation by the Texas Commission
on Law Enforcement Standards and Education into possible
falsification of his educational records.”
Cook, the son of a longtime Dallas police officer, “rose
from trainee to supervisor in less than two years,” wrote Gayle
Reaves of the Dallas Morning News in a separate expose. Added
Reaves, “Lake Dallas has 10 fulltime police officers. In the last
three years, four Lake Dallas officers have been fired. All say
they were punished for questioning Sgt. Cook’s performance. At least
three others have quit. Sgt. Cook has sued five former colleagues
and a former city council member for defamation,” apparently in
connection with their statements about incidents including Cook
allegedly threatening to shoot a partially handcuffed burglary
suspect, allowing his police dog to bite a handcuffed suspect, and
leaving Gilberto Rico, 18, to walk home on a dark road after
impounding his car on May 5, 1996. Rico was killed an hour later by
a hit-and-run driver.
Earlier, Reaves said, “State and Dallas county records and
lawsuit files connect Sgt. Cook as the registrant or director of
numerous helicopter and air charter companies,” which were subjects
of judgements won by a former landlord and another aviation firm.
After Cook’s police career, he worked for the Dallas World
Aquarium. He moved on to Six Flags Over Texas in mid-2002, but his
act was dropped on July 19, two weeks after the USDA cited his act
for five alleged Animal Welfare Act violations, and one week after
WFAA-TV News 8 of Dallas aired a video by former Six Flags animal
handler Jean Robb that appeared to show a tiger cub biting a handler.
“On his resume, Cook claims his operation has evolved into a
large-scale zoological service and research facility, operating
worldwide,” reported Brett Shipp of WFAA. “However, the only
operation News 8 could find is at Cook’s home in Kaufman, Texas.
Observed there were two exotic cat pens, a zebra pen, and evidence
of more being built. It’s nothing like what is described on Cook’s
web site. Cook’s resume also boasts a zoology degree from the
University of Wexford. Cook even provided News 8 with a transcript.
But news outlets have reported that Wexford is nothing more than a
diploma mill in Switzerland which fabricates a degree for a fee.”
Sometimes the mystery about exotic animal keepers is mostly
because they find that keeping a low profile is the best way to avoid
conflict with neighbors and regulators.
That would appear to describe former Ringling Bros. and
Barnum & Bailey Circus trapeze artist Joan Byron-Marasek, who
founded the Tigers Only Preserve in Jackson Township, New Jersey,
with five tigers in 1975. Barely noticed until January 1999, when
one tiger allegedly escaped and was shot by police, Byron-Marasek
has gone through eight lawyers since then while battling to retain
possession of her present menagerie of 24 tigers.
New Jersey Superior Court Judge Eugene D. Serpentelli is
expected to rule on the case in September. In closing testimony on
July 30, wrote Joseph Sapia of the Asbury Park Press, “Serpentelli
made clear that he prefers allowing Byron-Marasek to keep her tigers
with her own relocation plan, rather than ruling for the state’s
plan to move the tigers” to Wild Animal Orphanage. “So Serpentelli
said he would reopen the record if Byron-Marasek’s side were to come
in and testify to a feasible plan,” Sapia added, “something it has
yet to do.”
Sometimes the mystery may result from a tragic past. That
might describe Lorenza Pearson, 54, a traveling wildlife exhibitor
and owner of the L&L Exotic Animal Farm in Copley Township, Ohio.
Pearson reportedly keeps about 60 big cats, black bears,
alligators, and snakes.
Pearson fell in love with dangerous and exotic animals as a
child in Alabama, he recently told Cleveland Plain Dealer reporter
“Like a dummy, I went up and stuck my hand inside a bear
cage,” Pearson told Ramirez. The bear injured him, “but I didn’t
run away,” Pearson continued. “I went back and started scratching
him. And he was loving it. That’s when I said, ‘I got to get me
In 1983 one of Pearson’s tigers killed his two-year-old
son–and “five years ago,” Ramirez wrote, “Pearson’s two-year-old
grandson was mauled by another animal.”
On June 16 the USDA charged Pearson with 47 violations of the
Animal Welfare Act, following a series of local health department
citations for alleged improper disposal of animal waste and the
butchered carcasses of hooved stock used to feed the large carnivores.
Summit County Common Pleas Judge Patricia Cosgrove on August
26 gave Pearson 30 days to have all his felines vaccinated against
rabies and produce a plan to rectify the problems leading to the