TROUTMAN, N.C. (WJZY) — Zootastic Animal Park has, for years, been a go-to spot for up-close encounters with exotic animals. Its website touts the variety they have there — tigers, lions, giraffes, and various types of primates.
However, in its most recent inspection, USDA officials noted issues, some they deemed “critical” with the facility.
“The USDA never saw these animals, because they were healed by the time they came,” said Scottie Brown, owner of Zootastic, referencing the most recent inspection report, which showed three primates had what was termed “frostbite injuries.” One primate had an injury to its hand and two more had to have their tail tips amputated.
Brown acknowledged the injuries but said he did not know exactly how the three incidents happened, which transpired around a period of cold weather that happened in January.
“We try not to confine our primates, because they don’t like to be confined,” said Brown. “We shut the door and they go bouncing off the walls. We let them take care of themselves, and 90% of them, when it’s cold, they go inside.”
The findings in the most recent inspection report, which were filed in March, caught the attention of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA.
Queen City News spoke with them Wednesday and they noted this is not the first time Zootastic has had write-ups with federal officials.
“Zootastic’s history shows they aren’t cleaning up,” said PETA’s Klayton Rutherford.
Federal inspection reports are available monthly for Zootastic and other facilities like it. In a search dating back to the beginning of 2021, Queen City News found — most of the time — Zootastic was in compliance.
However, on four visits, there were issues. In addition to the March report, the USDA noted that some of the animals had injuries, and also noted issues with cleanliness in some of the enclosures and habitats.
Queen City News spoke with a former zookeeper, who noted that amputations are not unusual, but did note the issues with cleanliness can be a cause for concern and a sign of a larger problem. Zootastic acknowledged some staffing issues, which may have contributed to those problems, but noted that staffing is largely back to normal.
The spotlight on places like Zootastic is high right now, mainly because of the Netflix series “Tiger King.” Brown is quick to point out that the Troutman park is nothing like the reality show, and that PETA is overblowing issues that have been addressed.
“(PETA) uses their money to try to be a terrorist against these zoos,” said Brown. “And, you know, for 1,000 animals, we do a pretty good job.”