An unaccredited, family-run zoo in northwestern Arkansas has run afoul of the US Department of Agriculture over the treatment of its animals. In early 2017, the USDA filed a complaint against Wild Wilderness, Inc., alleging that the Gentry, Arkansas, tourist attraction had “willfully violated” the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). After AWI called public attention to the situation, several news outlets in the state broadcast the story.
Wild Wilderness features a four-mile drive-through “safari” featuring black bears, wolves, big cats, zebras, and a host of other exotic animals. The facility, which as of 2016 reportedly held nearly 900 animals, also offers a walk-through area with petting parks.
Numerous disturbing incidents are described in the USDA complaint, including a young lion found strangled to death by his own collar, a spider monkey who lost several digits to frostbite, and an olive baboon who chewed off the end of his tail. A visitor is said to have required medical attention after being bitten and scratched by a lion cub. Other visitors and employees reportedly have also suffered significant injuries.
Unfortunately, this is not Wild Wilderness’s first serious run-in with the authorities. In January 2012, the company was issued an official warning by the USDA for alleged AWA violations. Previous fines were levied by the USDA in 1992, 1998, 2002, and 2008. In 2002, park operator Freddy Wilmoth was sentenced to a six-month home confinement and a three-year probation and ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution after pleading guilty to violating the Endangered Species Act over the sale of four tigers who were subsequently killed for their hides and other body parts.
The Wilmoth family (though not Freddy) still owns and operates Wild Wilderness. In light of this latest complaint and the facility’s checkered history, AWI is calling on the USDA to impose a significant fine against Wild Wilderness and revoke its exhibitor’s license.