Thursday, March 16, 2017

Alabama: Mobile Zoo owner Mark Hightower arrested, charged on 28 counts of animal cruelty

ALABAMA -- The administrator of a small, roadside zoo in Mobile County was arrested Thursday and booked into the Metro Jail on 28 counts of animal cruelty.

The arrest of John Mark Hightower came after Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich's Office filed a search warrant last week at the Mobile Zoo and discovered animals in poor conditions living within the facility, which is based in Wilmer.

Kathy Eddy, public affairs director with Mobile County, said there are still animals living on the property in which county officials are still awaiting placement.

According to the county, there are still animals with no current rescue or facility ready to accept them at this time: three llamas, two European river hogs, a Razorback hog, a raccoon and a wolf hybrid.

Since the county's animal control department's initial investigation, a Belgian Draft horse had to be euthanized by a veterinarian due to severe conditions and inability to transport, according to the county.

Other animals such as a Shetland pony, donkeys and exotic birds were removed and rehomed following a Feb. 21 investigation. An American alligator was removed by Wes Moore of Alligator Alley in Summerdale.

Some of the animals have rescues or facilities waiting to remove them. Among those animals: three American black bears, two bobcats, a serval cat, an ostrich, a spectacled caiman, a longhorn steer and seven European red deer.

At its peak, the zoo housed more than 75 animals, ranging from bears, to tigers and lions as well as monkeys and birds.

USDA had repeatedly cited the zoo for rotted food in a refrigerator that had maintenance issues, and rotted meat in the enclosures with the lions and tigers. 

The small roadside zoo was ordered to be shut down in November 2016 by an administrative law judge with the U.S. Department of Agriculture after numerous complaints of animals being mistreated. The most recent inspection found cages with dried feces, an accumulation of pests in the animal enclosures, unstable den conditions and possible blood stains that were never cleaned up. 

In a 28-page ruling at the time, the judge listed a host of repeated failures by Hightower and his staff to provide adequate veterinary care and housing in accordance with federal regulations.

The zoo had until New Year's Day to remove all the animals.

The conditions of the animals at the zoo had been on the radar of animal rights groups for years, including the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA, in the past, had referred to the zoo as a "hellhole" and successfully pushed to get its longtime chimpanzee, Joe, released to an accredited sanctuary.

( - March 16, 2017)

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