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Fate of Zoo Animals To Be Determined
WILMER, Ala. (WPMI) Despite a history of serious repeat violations and an open federal investigation, it's unlikely the U.S. Department of Agriculture will confiscate animals from the Mobile Zoo.
"That is a decision that is not made lightly and is made by administrative law judges," USDA spokesperson Tanya Espinosa told Local 15, "There are many steps that remain to do that."
Even if zoo director John Hightower were to have his license revoked or suspended, he would be allowed to keep his animals but could not exhibit them. It would ultimately be Hightower's decision whether or not to give his animals away to another zoo or rescue group.
"Unless he can put himself in a position that he can afford to take care of the animals, he needs to shut that thing down," said Mobile SPCA Executive Director Janine Woods.
On July 24, federal USDA inspectors slapped the Mobile Zoo with 17 violations. Inspectors observed feces not being cleaned up, roach infestations, a psychologically distressed chimpanzee with only a tire and pieces of a toy to play with, poor veterinary care, and enclosures falling apart, including the tigers.
According to PETA's archive of inspection reports, the Mobile Zoo has been cited during every single regular USDA inspection for at least the past seven years.
"It's been like this practically since the day he opened," Woods said.
The first step the USDA would take would be an official warning. More unannounced inspections are likely in the near future, but Espinosa said each investigation is different and it's unknown how long the investigation into Mobile Zoo will take.
"We want to be as thorough as possible," Espinosa said.