Nov 4, 2022 - News

Georgia lawmaker scrutinizes Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary after bad inspections

Illustration of yellow caution tape with tiger stripes.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

A state lawmaker is calling for reform after federal inspectors found potential health and safety risks at Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary, a 250-acre refuge that’s supposed to give a second chance to roughly 1,500 exotic and aging animals. 

Driving the news: State Sen. Emanuel Jones (D-Decatur) upped the scrutiny on the nonprofit and its operations yesterday by spotlighting recent USDA and Henry County inspection reports of the Locust Grove facility.  

Catch up quick: Founded more than 30 years ago, the nonprofit takes in and rehabilitates bears, tigers, monkeys and other animals that have been abandoned, donated by circuses or rescued from inhumane environments. 

  • A notable trio dubbed "BLT" — a black bear, African lion and Bengal tiger — came to the sanctuary after police found them during a drug raid.  

The backdrop: For the past year, the sanctuary’s leadership, founders and their allies have been mired in a bitter dispute that included an alleged takeover of the board of directors. In August, more than 700 roosting wild vultures were found dead on the grounds from avian influenza, prompting the euthanization of roughly 100 birds and the facility’s temporary closure to the public until next year.  

  • Since then, supporters of the founders and the former board members have demanded transparency.

State of play: In mid-September, USDA inspectors found red flags like a "significant" accumulation of fecal material in rhesus monkey cages, and "remnants of decomposed vulture carcasses" in enclosures, posing a risk of potential infection to other sanctuary residents.  

  • Inspectors also said the facility needed to update its contingency plan.  
  • Prior to the September visit, previous USDA inspections of Noah’s Ark dating back to 2014 found few, if any, violations.

What they’re saying: "I’ve never seen anything like this for Noah’s Ark," Jack Kottwitz, a consulting veterinarian who says he’s worked with the sanctuary since 2008. "This is the kind of report you see at a roadside zoo right before the zoo is closed down."

Of note: In late October, a Georgia Department of Natural Resources official said animals looked cared for and facilities were clean.

The other side: In a statement to Axios and other media outlets, a Noah’s Ark spokesperson said the September inspection was conducted days after three longtime caretakers quit and one was fired.

  • Since August, they said, the facility has received weekly visits from inspectors and shown improvement.

What’s next: Aside from introducing legislation, Jones’ options are limited. 

  • The authority, says the senator and Wren Williams, a lawyer for the former board members, lies in the governor’s office and regulatory bodies like USDA, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and the Georgia Department of Agriculture.  

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