Wild Animal Orphanage leadership transition
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, October 2009:
SAN ANTONIO–Nicole A. Garcia on October 4, 2009 succeeded
her mother, Carol Asvestas, as chief executive of Wild Animal
Orphanage, but it was not an easy succession.
Asvestas, who founded WAO in 1983, resisted stepping down.
Garcia, who grew up helping to run the sanctuary, but had lived in
Florida for several years, returned in late 2008 in anticipation of
helping Asvestas fend off critics, including a former board member
who had resigned and taken a list of allegations to the USDA and the
Texas Office of Attorney General.
Instead, Garcia told ANIMAL PEOPLE, she found that many of
the allegations she had heard were substantially true. After taking
the evidence to the board, Garcia found herself cleaning up after an
October 4, 2009 coup d’etat that displaced both of her parents.
“The board of directors did not oust Ron and Carol,” WAO
vice president Sumner Matthes told ANIMAL PEOPLE. “Our original
legal vote was to place them on 90-day administrative leave.
Unfortunately, this was not acceptable to them, and they
immediately proceeded to the WAO offices and removed computers,
records and various other things essential to our conducting an
in-house investigation. These items have essentially been returned
as a result of legal action,” Matthes said. “This resulted in the
board holding another meeting at which it was voted to terminate
Garcia within the next few days invited in USDA inspectors to
get an updated list of needed improvements and repairs to the WAO
facilities, and sent the Texas Office of Attorney General stacks of
documents the office had requested earlier but had not received. She
also dropped a libel suit filed by her parents on behalf of WAO
against the San Antonio Lightning news web site, and told ANIMAL
PEOPLE that she would have dismissed the attorney who had represented
WAO, except that he resigned first. Garcia said that much of the
Lightning reportage was accurate, and that what was not had been
reported in good faith, in her opinion, with mistakes resulting
from her mother failing to respond to questions.
Allegations of animal neglect at WAO came as a shock to
Garcia as well as to WAO supporters and donors, she said. Carol
Asvestas was a founder of the American Sanctuary Association in 1996,
one of the two major U.S. sanctuary accreditation bodies, and later
split with ASA to form an accreditation body with stricter standards
called Animal Centers of Excellence. The latter failed to attract
membership. Asvestas also rapidly added ambitious new programs for
several years, culminating in retitling her facilities The Animal
Sanctuary of the U.S. in 2001–but the new name did not catch on.
However, for nearly 20 years WAO has received exotic animals rescued
by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, and has received
animals from law enforcement agencies as far away as Washington,
Idaho, and New Jersey.
Garcia announced immediate improvements to the animals’
diets, and on October 26, 2009 announced $15,000 worth of other
changes, including completing bear and macaque housing at the
102-acre main WAO facility so that bears and longtailed macaques can
be moved from the 10-acre original WAO site at the edge of San
Both ANIMAL PEOPLE and the San Antonio Current asked Carol
Asvestas for comment, but nearly a month after the transition she
had not responded to messages.