Bears, alligators, snakes among creatures rescued from Md. zoo


Try finding a new home for four alligators, three pythons, two Asiatic black bears, two tigers and a lion, plus a pair of miniature horses, 11 peafowl, a raccoon, a jittery squirrel monkey and a 150-pound potbellied pig named Snorkel.

This motley crew was part of a menagerie of nearly 80 animals moved from a roadside zoo in Western Maryland after two lawsuits and a court settlement involving allegations that they’d been kept in poor conditions and given inadequate care. Robert Candy, the owner of the facility — called Tri-State Zoological Park, in Cumberland, Md. — has denied the allegations and closed the facility.

Over the last few months, rescuers scouted for new homes, arranged veterinarian checkups for the animals and sorted through legal issues, quarantines and permits to transfer them across state lines. It was part of a $200,000 logistical feat to relocate them to 14 accredited facilities and sanctuaries in Maryland, North Carolina, Indiana, Colorado, Texas and California.

Alligators, pythons, Asiatic black bears, a lion along with other animals were rescued from Tri-State Zoological Park in Cumberland, Md., in fall 2022. (Video: Lions, Tigers and Bears Animal Rescue & Sanctuary)

“It was really, really hard,” said Brittany Peet, the general counsel for the captive-animal law enforcement unit at the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Foundation, which helped lead the operation. PETA personnel said the operation was one of the group’s largest and most complex rescues.

A cat was killed in Maryland. Two dogs were put on ‘death row.’

“You weren’t just dealing with moving 400 chinchillas, which is not as hard, because they’re all one species so you can find new homes more easily for them,” Peet said. “In this, we were dealing with 30 different species, and there’s different permit requirements for every one, whether that be alligators, snapping turtles or emus. Even if they’re just passing through a spot and not unloading them, you have to follow the policies.”

Plus, there was the challenge of physically moving the creatures, many of which were in poor health.

Without using sedation, wildlife experts lured two obese Asiatic black bears — one weighing 520 pounds and the other 698 — into an enclosure. The bait: blackberry jam sandwiches and grapes. Once the bears were in the enclosure, they carefully rolled it into a truck-drawn trailer.

Inside the trailer, special dividers kept the bears — Suzie and Sally — a safe distance from their fellow passengers: two miniature horses, a llama-alpaca hybrid, two emus, two ducks, two coatimundis and Snorkel, the potbellied pig. The coatimundis, mammals that look like a cross between a lemur, a raccoon and a monkey, and Snorkel were dropped off at a facility in Texas — although Snorkel died during surgery to remove a soccer ball-sized tumor from its hind quarters. The rest of the animals on the truck went to Lions, Tigers and Bears, an exotic-animal sanctuary in Alpine, Calif.

And that was only one of the many vehicles that picked up the rescued animals at the Cumberland zoo.

The animals have settled into their new homes, and their caretakers said they’re on the mend.

A New Guinea singing dog that had kidney trouble and a bad skin infection has recovered after being put on antibiotics at a facility in Pittsboro, N.C. Several snakes and lizards that were severely dehydrated and emaciated are back in good form. And a blue-tongued skink that was in such bad shape that its eyes had sunk in has gotten better after a veterinarian scraped away the debris and scales that had grown over its eyes and probably had prevented it from seeing, according to Peet.

A loon came to rest in a suburban Virginia pond. The ‘loonarazzi’ is following its every move.

In Maryland, Poplar Spring Animal Sanctuary took in Princess, a 14-year-old goat. She’d suffered from a respiratory infection, crusty skin, bald patches and parasites, but with medical attention, she has improved.

“She was really scared of people,” said Terry Cummings, a director and founder of the facility in Poolesville, which also took in two geese and several red-eared slider turtles from Tri-State. “I don’t think she ever came out of the barn there.”

Princess has been spending her days with a new friend, a handicapped goat named Zachary. They mostly eat hay together.

“Now she’s sweet and friendly, and her hair’s grown back,” Cummings said.

For Sally and Suzie, the bears, their days of eating cheesecake, doughnuts and pastries as they had at Tri-State are over. They were both far beyond the average 300 pounds that female Asiatic black bears should weigh, experts said, and had health troubles as a result. They’ve been put on a diet of fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, cooked meat and raw fish.

“They couldn’t move around very much before because they were grossly overweight,” said Bobbi Brink, the founder and director of Lions, Tigers and Bears. “Now they’re doing really well.”

Two tigers and a lioness also were placed in new homes. And a squirrel monkey that had been named Spazz and kept in solitary confinement next to snakes, his natural predators — which experts said probably caused him to pick and thin his hair — is happily living at a facility in Detroit with Ziggy, another squirrel monkey. Spazz got a new name: Hoggle.

Five years ago, PETA filed an initial lawsuit and then others against Tri-State after conducting undercover investigations of the facility. PETA alleged that animals were kept in poor conditions, were ill-treated and received inadequate veterinary care.

In court records, animal rights investigators called it one of the dirtiest and worst facilities they’d seen, and at one point, a U.S. District Court judge in Maryland said that animals had been housed in “fetid” conditions and that “filth and feces dominate Tri-State.”

Court records described a tiger that didn’t receive adequate care until it couldn’t move well and wasn’t eating or drinking. Dodger, a capuchin monkey, had to have some of his fingers amputated because of frostbite. Five animals died at Tri-State, including some that were protected under the Endangered Species Act, and the federal judge said several of the animals had died prematurely because of poor care.

Separately, federal authorities who inspected Tri-State also reported that children had reached through a cage to pet tigers as a guide stood nearby, and that enclosures for tigers and lions were so badly built that the animals could “easily enter the visitor area.”

Mauling, escapes and abuse: 6 small zoos, 80 sick or dead animals

Candy, the owner of Tri-State, disagreed with the judge’s findings that he had violated the Endangered Species Act, according to his lawyer Jan I. Berlage. In an email, Berlage wrote that Candy opened the Tri-State zoo to the public in 2003, and took in animals that were “kept as pets or belonged to other zoos,” along with animals that were “handicapped, neglected, or abused.”

The animals had been given “excellent care,” Berlage said, adding that Candy closed the facility for several reasons: aging animals, money troubles, a “backlash against zoos” and a desire to retire.

With the costly relocation of the animals completed, the hard work for their caretakers begins.

“It’s a complex puzzle of not just rescuing them and moving them,” said Lynn Cuny, the founder and president of Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, in Kendalia, Tex., which took in the alligators and a snapping turtle from Tri-State. “We also have to provide for their long-term needs of food and other health care their whole lives.”