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December 04, 2013

Animals Fall by the Wayside at Roadside Zoos

I’ve written before about the distinction between accredited zoos and roadside menageries. At roadside zoos, the outcomes are typically adverse for the animals, who are often obtained from questionable sources, housed in deficient environments, denied veterinary care and behavioral and enrichment programs, and dispensed with when they are no longer seen as valuable.

Today, The HSUS released a report, “Maryland’s Fatal Attractions,” about some of the problems with three roadside zoos in the state.


  • At the Catoctin Zoo in Thurmont, we found sun bears (a species native to Asia) confined to a small, barren concrete cage. They were inhibited from climbing, digging, bathing, foraging, exploring, and expressing other instinctive behaviors. The bears engaged in repetitive behaviors, pacing back and forth on the same short path over and over again.
  • Monkey
    Debbie Leahy/The HSUS
    Without adequate enrichment, this young macaque at
    Catoctin Zoo tried to entertain himself by grabbing a
    handful of gravel.

  • We found no evidence of an enrichment program for primates at Catoctin, even though the facility houses more primates than all other zoos in Maryland combined. The same zoo also does poorly with big cats, with fencing that is dangerously short; wide gaps in the jaguar cage; a bent, sagging fence next to a tiger enclosure that a child could easily penetrate; and flimsy plastic netting used as a roof on a lion cage.
  • At Plumpton Park Zoo in Rising Sun, we saw numerous cages that were much too small, poorly designed, filthy and foul-smelling, and structurally unsound. Since 2006, Plumpton Park has been cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 109 violations of the Animal Welfare Act, including numerous citations for inadequate safety barriers and insufficient staffing. Yet this facility recently acquired two new tigers, doubled the number of bears it keeps, and is managed by owners who have expressed an interest in acquiring lions and orangutans.
  • At the Tri-State Zoo in Cumberland – a cluttered and disorganized private menagerie with poor sanitation practices that relies on volunteers with little to no formal training in exotic animal care – there are six tigers living in a deteriorating, empty swimming pool.

Each facility has a history of animal escapes, and each one has had a record of serious violations from the USDA.

Maryland’s law prohibiting the private possession of certain wild animals, including big cats, bears, and primates, does not apply to any “exhibitor licensed under the federal Animal Welfare Act.” This overly-broad exemption allows exotic pet owners, roadside zoos, and other unqualified facilities to continue acquiring and breeding dangerous wild animals by simply obtaining an exhibitor license from the USDA.

Tiger in swimming pool
Debbie Leahy/The HSUS
Six tigers were observed living in a deteriorating empty
pool at Tri-State Zoo in Cumberland, Md.

The USDA has only about 136 inspectors responsible for more than 15,000 facilities, and doesn’t have the resources to continuously monitor all of these roadside menageries. It’s difficult to revoke their licenses even when they’ve had multiple violations, and some shuttered roadside operations reopen under a new name, sometimes with friends or family members fronting for the facility.

We’re calling on Maryland state legislators to strengthen the law by eliminating this USDA loophole for bears, big cats, and primates. Only qualified, professionally-run facilities, such as those accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums or the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries should be keeping these species, since they have significant behavioral needs and are potentially dangerous if they interact with the public and inexperienced keepers.

Don’t patronize these roadside zoos, and join our campaign to work with accredited zoos to prevent these slipshod facilities and new fly-by-night operations from acquiring or breeding especially dangerous species. The vast number of nonprofit animal sanctuaries – which are filled up with refugees from these kinds of substandard facilities – represent living examples of the problems such places create, costing our movement millions as we clean up the messes these operators leave behind.

Tell Md. Legislators to Ban Dangerous Wild Animals at Roadside Zoos >>

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