An animal advocacy group has accused G.W. Exotic Animal Park in Wynnewood of unsafe handling of deadly animals, questionable breeding practices and other
The owner of the park denies the allegations.
The Humane Society of the United States has filed formal complaints against the park with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation after one of its employees worked
Joe Schreibvogel, owner of G.W. Exotic Animal Park since 1999, said the entire report is the end result of an elaborate publicity stunt by the Humane Society, which he claims is more concerned with influencing lawmakers than helping animals.
The 54-acre animal park is just east of Interstate 35 in Wynnewood, roughly 65 miles south of Oklahoma City. It's home to 170 big cats and hundreds of other non-native species, many of them abandoned pets at one time.
A report issued by the Humane Society claims the undercover employee witnessed or “heard reports about numerous dangerous public interactions” at the park, including at least six park visitors who were either bitten or scratched by tiger cubs.
Many exotic animals
Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society, said the G.W. Exotic Animal Park has one of the largest populations of “dangerous exotic animals” in the United States among roadside zoos.
“At this facility, children are allowed to play with tigers as if they are domestic kittens, rather than wild cats soon to mature into the some of the world's most lethal carnivores,” Pacelle said.
The Humane Society investigator also alleges in the report that at least five tigers died last summer under questionable circumstances.
Other findings detailed in the report allege that a “federally protected” hawk was placed in a trash bin while still alive and that small children were placed inside enclosures with unrestrained wolves and wolf hybrids.
The report also alleges that G.W. Exotic Animal Park employees, many of whom weren't properly trained to handle large predators, were urged to lie about the ages of certain big cats being used to interact with the public since federal law prohibits such practices with animals deemed “too mature” — typically older than 12 weeks.
Video footage provided by the Humane Society
Report a ‘setup'
Schreibvogel said the Humane Society's undercover employee, who he named as Timothy Moyer, was sent to work at his animal park to further the agenda of the animal rights organization.
“They don't actually care for animals like your local Humane Society does. Wayne Pacelle has no training in the zoo industry,” Schreibvogel said. “Timothy Moyer was hired and put through training to do a job here, and all he did the entire time he was here was try and set up me and my employees. The whole report was a setup.”
The Humane Society's report states the U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating the park after 23 tiger cubs died during a 13-month period in 2009 and 2010.
Schreibvogel said tainted formula used to hand-raise the cubs is what caused the deaths.
“When that was happening, we didn't know why,” he said. “But when I started checking around, I found animals dying from here to Africa ... and we were all feeding them the same formula.”
Schreibvogel said the investigation into the cubs' deaths remains open because of protocol at the federal agency.
“The investigation is still open because if they don't find anything, it stays open,” he said. “I mean, animals die. It happens every day. But you don't hear anything about the 800 animals I've saved that are still living here, do you?”
David Sacks, a U.S. Department of Agriculture spokesman, said the investigation into the deaths of the 23 tiger cubs is ongoing and declined to provide further details.
Suspended in 2006
Sacks said the G.W. Exotic Animal Park has been investigated four times since 1999, and documents show that Schreibvogel's license was suspended in 2006 for an assortment of violations. He said it isn't clear whether the new footage obtained by the Humane Society will be used to launch another inquiry into the park's activities.
“It would be inappropriate to speculate on how we may or may not use the HSUS video footage,” Sacks said.
Micah Holmes, a spokesman for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation, told The Oklahoman on Wednesday there's little his agency can do in terms of enforcement, at least in this case, because of the species involved.
“If it's a non-native animal, it falls outside of our jurisdiction,” Holmes said. “There's just nothing we can do.”
When asked if the state wildlife department had ever investigated G.W. Exotic Animal Park before, Holmes said he wasn't “aware of any investigations.”
Schreibvogel claims the Humane Society is attacking his animal park because they want state and federal laws changed to do away with private ownership of exotic pets, which frequently includes lions, tigers and other potentially deadly animals.
“If they care so much about the animals, then why didn't they call me when they saw this alleged mistreatment?” he asked. “The HSUS makes big money from donations, and right now their donation button on their
“They have their agenda, and I think it's plain to see here.”
As for the future of the G.W. Exotic Animal Park, Schreibvogel says he's more determined than
“If I could say anything to the public, I'd tell them to come to the park and see for themselves,” he said.
“I have nothing to hide. Never have.”