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Feds shut down Even Keel Exotics and seize 142 animals


The lemur shown at left was cited in a lawsuit that permanently shut down Even Keel Exotics.

Even Keel Exotics has been shut down and 142 animals will be confiscated by authorities after owner Zachery Keeler entered into an agreement with the Department of Justice that permanently prohibits him from buying, selling, exhibiting or transporting any animal regulated under the Animal Welfare Act.


Keeler is an exotic animal dealer who bought, sold and traded animals and offered paid animal encounters and “baby animal days” at his Temperance, Michigan roadside zoo, where the public was encouraged to interact with infant animals that had been taken from their mothers to be imprinted on by humans. Read more about Even Keel Exotics here.


For years Keeler has been accused of neglecting the animals in his care. U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection reports outline multiple instances of animals being deprived of water and denied veterinary care. Inspectors found animals living in cramped, filthy enclosures that didn’t provide adequate shelter from inclement weather.


Even Keel customers allege they were sold sick and dying animals or Keeler took their money and never supplied the animals they were promised.


The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) is the only federal law providing protections for animals at roadside zoos and other facilities that use animals in research, teaching, testing, exhibition, transport, and by dealers. The USDA is tasked with inspecting roadside zoos and enforcing the AWA. Most warm blooded species of animals are regulated under the act.


Since becoming licensed in 2014, Keeler was cited with 74 violations of the AWA. In the past year, Keeler stopped allowing USDA officials to inspect the animals at all. Between May 3, 2022, and May 18, 2023, Keeler failed to allow inspections on ten separate occasions.


On July 18, the USDA filed an administrative complaint, seeking to revoke Keeler’s license and assess civil penalties for his chronic violations. Two days later, the Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against Keeler, alleging he violated the AWA and the Endangered Species Act (ESA).


According to the complaint, Keeler violated the AWA by failing to maintain complete and accurate records; failing to make potable water available as necessary for the health and comfort of each animal; failing to provide adequate veterinary care; failing to maintain safe and sanitary conditions and facilities; failing to meet minimum standards for handling animals; and by placing the health of certain animals in serious danger.


The complaint alleges Keeler violated the ESA by unlawfully and prematurely separating a lemur from its mother and by forcing the lemur to interact with the public; by continuing to possess unlawfully taken ESA-protected ring-tailed lemurs; and by attempting to sell a taken ring-tailed lemur.


The DOJ’s lawsuit sought to permanently prevent and restrain Keeler from operating in violation of the AWA and to force him to relinquish possession of the lemurs.


On August 15, Keeler entered into a consent decree with the DOJ to resolve the lawsuit. Under the agreement, Keeler must permanently refrain from buying, selling, transporting, exhibiting and delivering any animal that is regulated under the AWA.


As part of the agreement, the USDA will take possession of 142 animals at Even Keel Exotics within 14 days, including:

  • Two red fox

  • One serval

  • Seven ring-tailed lemurs

  • Three kinkajou

  • One fishing cat

  • 50 black-tailed prairie dog

  • Six striped skunk

  • Four Bennett’s wallaby

  • 60 Richardson’s ground squirrel

  • Two prehensile-tailed porcupines

  • One African crested porcupine

  • Five fennec fox

The animals are expected to be placed at accredited sanctuaries.


Keeler has removed the Even Keel Exotics website and the business hasn’t posted on social media in more than a month. He still faces potential civil penalties from the USDA.


The consent decree means that Keeler will never be able to buy, sell, trade or exhibit exotic animals in the United States again.


Download federal lawsuit:

KeelerComplaintDeclaratoryInjunctiveRelief (1)
.pdf
Download PDF • 783KB

Download USDA administrative complaint:

USDAKeelerComplaint
.pdf
Download PDF • 161KB

Download Consent Decree:

KeelerConsentDecree
.pdf
Download PDF • 460KB

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