Stepping in where the US Department of Agriculture failed to act, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring’s Animal Law Unit moved to enforce state cruelty laws and end the abuse of animals by an exhibitor in Winchester, Virginia, that is licensed under the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). Despite a long, documented history at Wilson’s Wild Animal Park of citations for failing to comply with the minimum standards of the AWA, the USDA failed to take any enforcement action, let alone confiscate animals or revoke the park’s license.
From 2004 through January 2018, the USDA cited Wilson’s for over 80 deficiencies under the AWA. Following the January 2018 inspection, however, the USDA stopped citing the facility. On August 7, 2019, yet another inspection resulted in no citations, but the next day an animal control officer observed multiple animals without water and insufficient shade. A search warrant was executed by the Virginia State Police, with the assistance of the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and the Virginia Attorney General’s Animal Law Unit. They spent two days on the premises, documenting conditions and ultimately seizing 119 animals. They found most of the park’s animals had an insufficient amount of food, water, and space; some had filthy, severely matted fur and some exhibited abnormal behaviors. Partial skeletons littered the ground.
At a hearing regarding the seizures, the judge ordered forfeiture of the animals, noting that Wilson’s had “cruelly treated, neglected, or deprived the animal[s] of adequate care.” He also ordered the owner of the operation, Keith Wilson, to post a $300,000 bond and allow inspection of the facility every 90 days for two years. The investigation is ongoing.