Animal Adventures has new managers

GLADES COUNTY — Animal Adventures, a non-profit wildlife facility in rural Glades County, is under new management.

First order of business is to make sure the cages and fences are secure, said Jamie Hargett, who along with her husband Jeremy, took over operation of the troubled wildlife facility last week.

The Hargetts plan changes at Animal Adventures, starting with reducing the number of animals there and providing the remaining animals with larger enclosures.

Four of the facility’s dozen tigers already have transfers to other facilities in the works.

“We’ll still have tigers,” said Mrs. Hargett, “Just not as many.

Another change: Animal Adventures will no longer be a breeding facility, she said.

“If you can’t afford upkeep, you don’t need to breed,” Mrs. Hargett added, noting that the veterinarian bills for a pregnant tiger “are outrageous.”

She said she understands tigers were bred there in the past but she does not know how many tigers were born at Animal Adventures since it opened in 2011. One of the tigers currently at the facility was born there.

Mrs. Hargett said Florida Wildlife Commission has given them 30 days to make repairs and start to get the wildlife facility back on track. She said at that point if FWC is not satisfied with the progress they have made, Animal Adventures will be closed and all of the animals will be transferred to other wildlife centers, or, in the case of some of the older animals, they could be euthanized.

After the 30-day inspection, if the Hargetts are making good progress, FWC will give them another 30 days, she continued. At the end of the 60-day period, the facility will have to pass the FWC inspection.

FWC inspectors met with the Hargetts at Animal Adventures on Dec. 2, she said. “We spent five hours going over everything.”

It will be at least six months before the facility will reopen to the public. There is no reopening date on the calendar.

“We want to make sure everything is 100 percent,” she said.

Mrs. Hargett said she and her husband are currently paying for the repairs to the facility themselves. They plan to start a fundraising campaign for the non-profit facility. She added that they will also be contacting local businesses, asking for donations of lumber, fencing and other supplies.

The meat for the carnivores is already donated by a grocery chain.

Mrs. Hargett said that instead of cages, they would like for the animals to have habitats. She said those in cages will have at least one and half times the space required by FWC regulations.

All of the enclosures will be built with materials that meet FWC standards.

The facility is currently on 5 acres. The Hargetts have leased 10 acres, so it could double in size to accommodate the larger enclosures. She said they also have an option to lease more land on the 1,100-acre former dairy property.

The Hargetts have moved to the property next door to Animal Adventures. She said they can see some of the animal cages from their front door.

They have a separate business that deals with venomous snakes, but that is not and will not be part of Animal Adventures, she explained. She said the only snake on the Animal Adventures property is a Burmese python.

After the facility is in good shape, they plan to add other animals, such a hyenas. Usually these animals come from rescues or from private owners who can no longer take care of them. She said they also make referrals to other wildlife centers.

Mrs. Hargett said they want to reassure their Glades County neighbors that the facility will be secure and the animals well cared for. They plan to start a new Facebook page and regularly post photos, videos and live feeds so anyone who is interested can follow their progress.

Once the facility is secure, they will also welcome volunteers to help at the non-profit wildlife center.

Previous owner lost licenses

The wild animal facility — off State Road 70 near the Glades/Okeechobee county line — was cited by FWC in September for unsafe and unsanitary conditions as well as record keeping violations.

As a result of the charges that stemmed from that investigation, Mary Sue Pearce, the owner/operator of Animal Adventures, agreed to surrender her wildlife permits and transfer all of the wild animals in her possession to another licensed individual. Ms. Pearce signed a Deferred Prosecution Agreement following a hearing in Glades County court on Nov. 28.

According to the Florida Wildlife Commission report, on Sept. 2, FWC captive wildlife investigators conducted an inspection in response to a complaint at Animal Adventures, Inc., located on a 1,100 acre property off Rucks Dairy Road in Glades County.

Numerous violations pertaining to the record keeping, housing and care of captive wildlife were observed during that inspection, and the facility’s permittee, Mary Sue Pearce, was issued numerous citations and warnings for the violations, the FWC report continues.

The cited violations included failure to provide animals with clean water daily, failure to keep cages and enclosures free of feces, as well as issues involving the sizes and security of some enclosures.

At the time of the Aug. 31 and Sept. 2 inspections, the FWC Investigator Richard Doricchi noted violations involving the care of American alligators, captive exotic birds, two African spurred tortoises, two Coatimundis, a brown lemur, 13 tigers, a Tigon, three female lions, one male lion, a black bear, two cougars, two baboons, an iguana, a black leopard and a bobcat.

After a follow-up inspection on Sept. 14, Investigator Doricchi noted that two of the lions and the tigon had been transferred to other facilities. He also noted that one tiger had been euthanized and was buried in a shallow grave on the property.

At a hearing on Nov. 28, Ms. Pearce signed an agreement with the State Attorney’s Office whereby she would transfer all captive wildlife previously in her possession to another properly licensed individual. The agreement also states Ms. Pearce will not seek any new wildlife permits for a period of three years.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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