Voting to end Wild Animal Orphanage, board seeks new homes for 297 animals

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2010:
(published October 5, 2010)

SAN ANTONIO–Wild Animal Orphanage
directors Suzanne Straw, Michelle Cryer, and
Chris Smith on August 31, 2010 unanimously voted
to dissolve the 17-year-old sanctuary, one of
the largest in the world, with 297 animals–some
at the seven-acre original site just outside San
Antonio, most at a 102-acre site located farther
Founders Carol and Ron Asvestas were
ousted from the Wildife Animal Orphanage
management in an October 2009 coup d’etat led by
their daughter Nicole Garcia, amid financial
stress following years of allegations of
mismanagement by former volunteers and donors.

Clashing with several of the then-board
members over tactics and priorities, Garcia was
terminated on April 30, 2010. The sanctuary has
been managed since then by volunteer Jamie Cryer,
husband of board member Michelle Cryer.
“Due to over-population, under-funding
and inadequate housing for the animals, the board
and animal caretakers must say good-bye to our
long-time residents,” Straw, Cryer, and Smith
posted to the Wild Animal Orphanage web site on
September 17, 2010. “Wonderful new homes are
lined up for approximately one third of our
remaining animals, but that leaves almost 200
animals without a future plan.
“Working with the USDA, the Texas State
Attorney General’s Office Charitable Trust
Division, and the International Fund for Animal
Welfare,” Straw, Cryer, and Smth added, “the
Wild Animal Orphanage board has signed a
resolution to dissolve the sanctuary within 60
days by relocating the animal collection to other
facilities. Animals not healthy enough to
withstand the rigors of transportation will
receive veterinary care to prepare them for
transport, and if deemed medically necessary by
a veterinarian, the remainder will be
“We’re providing expertise to help make
sure the chimps are well taken care of. It’s
a dire situation,” North American Primate
Sanctuary Association co-chair Sarah Baeckler
“We’re not going to close until every
single animal has been found a new home,” Straw
earlier told Enrique Lopetegui of the San Antonio
Current, pledging to “keep fundraising and
feeding them.”
Lopetegui learned of the impending
closure, he said, from an August 23 web posting
by Laurie Gage, identified as big cat
specialist for the USDA, who said Wild Animal
Orphanage was “trying to find homes for 55
tigers, 14 lions, three cougars, six wolf
hybrids, two 17-year-old leopards, and about
200 primates.” Among the animals were many who
were accepted from other failed sanctuaries,
often with IFAW sponsorship, and the 22
survivors among 55 stump-tailed macaques who were
retired to Wild Animal Orphanage by the
University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1998.
Ex-Wild Animal Orpha-nage vice-president
and treasurer Kristina Brunner hinted to
Lopetegui that a vegetarian food policy for
humans was involved in the splits that preceded
the sanctuary dissolution. Some personnel “kept
complaining that Nicole never listened to their
fundraising ideas,” Brunner said. “So I’d say,
‘Tell me about it.’ They would come up with
off-the-wall ideas like having a meat barbecue on
the Wild Animal Orphanage property. I thought
they were out of their minds.”
Said Lynn Cuny, founder of the nearby
Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation sanctuary,
where Asvestas volunteered before founding Wild
Animal Orphanage, “If you’re going to be eating
one animal to raise money to feed another, then
I don’t think you’re doing your job, and I don’t
think you’re holding that really true high
standard of what an animal protection
organization is.”
“Legal wrangling continued up to the day
before the vote to dissolve,” Lopetegui wrote,
as the board rejected an offer of settlement of a
lawsuit brought by Carol and Ron Asvestas which
would have put them back in charge.
Garcia, now tending bar in nearby Leon
Valley, alleged to Lopetegui that she “was just
used as a pawn to get my parents out.” Garcia
earlier told ANIMAL PEOPLE that she was the
primary source for exposés of alleged abuses at
Wild Animal Orphanage under her mother’s
management that were posted in 2007-2009 by the
San Antonio Lightning news web site.

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