When state investigators examined Animal Adventures in September, they found Shere Khan, one of the park’s tigers, reposing in an enclosure filled with standing water mingled with shit. When they looked at the other side of his cage, what looked to be an algae bloom had taken over his tub of water.
The scene was disturbing, but Shere Khan, they found, was not the only animal wasting away at the decayed wildlife facility. An emaciated iguana slowly crept across its pen, and, in the muddy grounds of the property, inspectors found a robust-looking tiger buried in a shallow grave. Allegedly, it had been euthanized.
The more inspectors examined the Glades County facility, the more it racked up violations: exposed screws in the baboon enclosure, clouds of flies swarming around rampant feces, and two lionesses living inside substandard-sized cages. The queens of the jungle had been walking in dizzying circles.
There were also structural violations. The Florida Fish and Wildlife (FWC) inspectors also discovered holes spanning several feet in rusted-over portions of the facility's perimeter fence. Metal parts of the alligator enclosure were also rusting, compromising the integrity of the pen. Altogether, the facility was a wreck on the brink of becoming a nightmare for residents.
One of the inspectors, Richard Doricchi, wrote in his report that he observed “multiple violations that raised great concern and a potential public safety issue.”
In the weeks that followed the inspection, Mary Sue Pearce, the owner of Animal Adventures, was met with severe public backlash. The facility was supposed to take care of the exotic animals, not force them to erode in corroded surroundings. Some people left less than stellar reviews on the facility's Facebook page. The comments ranged from "They are animal abusers" to "Close the hellhole and dump the owner in prison."
Among the animal rights activists across Florida who have lambasted Pearce is Broward’s own Russ Rector, a well-known critic of animal exhibitors. He tells New Times that he is particularly concerned for children because they could be hurt if animals break through the rusted fences.
Rector says by not enforcing the law sooner that FWC officials let the facility deteriorate and, in the process, failed both the animals and children. "In my 40 years of animal activism I've never seen a place as bad as Animal Adventures," he said. "It's my numero uno."
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When Mario Mercado, an official with the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, surveyed the property in October, one month after FWC officials, he remarked in his report that the, "The lack of facility compliance indicates there are not enough employees present to... maintin the facility in good repair."
Amid the growing vitriol from the public, Pearce has since signed over Animal Adventures to new managers, her "friends" Jeremy and Jamie Hargett. The married couple told the Okeechobee News that they plan to contact nearby businesses and ask for donations of building supplies to repair the rotting shelters and construct larger ones for the big cats to live. They also said the facility will soon be made "secure" and that the animals be "well cared for."
However, Rector isn't buying it. He doesn't believe Animal Adventures, which he calls an "animal horror story," will ever get better. "It's easy to say this shit, but it's real hard to do it," Rector said. "If they were such good friends why didn't [Jeremy Hargett] intervene before it got to this deplorable stage?"
New Times has attempted to contact Mary Sue Pearce to give her the opportunity to comment, but she has not responded to our questions. This story will be updated if we hear back.