Wilson’s Wild Animal Park in Virginia had an apparently perfect reputation. Animal welfare inspectors found no violations. It’s home to over 200 exotic animals, but the zoo was not what it appeared to be.

According to the Independent UK, law enforcement officers found numerous violations in the park, including a pony with a swollen face, maggot-filled meat and what was described as a “monkey dungeon.”  Law enforcement officers found the scene alongside a group of zoologists and veterinarians.

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119 animals were seized and owner Keith Wilson and an employee were charged with 46 counts of animal cruelty. The animal welfare department, under the USDA, found no violations and yet local law enforcement found dire problems that led to 46 counts of animal cruelty.

The difference between the USDA and local findings is the byproduct of decline in federal welfare enforcement. According to the Independent UK,  USDA citations fell by 65% between 2016 and 2018. PETA has been working in Virginia and other places to push authorities to investigate local cases, in light of a seemingly unresponsive USDA.

Virginia’s attorney general Mark Herring reviews animal law unit and said of the issue, “The Trump administration has a long record of pulling back on science and enforcement of laws and regulations in a lot of different areas, and it is important for states, and I think it’s important for me as Virginia’s attorney general, to step up.”

The USDA spokesperson that had reviewed the zoo said that she didn’t include issues in her write up because Wilson was working on fixing them. Animals at the zoo experienced feces, urine and algae in driving water. Many animals did not have access to food, water, or medical attention. Veterinarians found dead animals in the gift shop freezer.

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The prosecutor, Michelle Welch, said of the conditions and the difficulty of finding new homes for the animals, “The monkeys are in a monkey dungeon, judge, it stunk to high heaven. We couldn’t even place them all. That’s how deplorable the conditions were.”

Zoos are harmful to wildlife and do not help with conservation efforts, as they most commonly publicize. Animals are kept in small habitats and often suffer emotional distress. Sign this petition to call for a ban on zoos around the world!

Read and learn more about why zoos are not happy places for animals:

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