U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) inspector Jessica Rivera is no longer completing inspections after Roadside Zoo News repeatedly reported her unethical activity to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG).
Rivera was the USDA inspector responsible for ensuring the health and welfare of the animals at some of the most notorious roadside zoos in Wisconsin including Special Memories Zoo, Animal Haven Zoo, Shalom Wildlife Sanctuary, Wild Bill’s Exotics, Premier Exotics and Glacier Ridge Animal Park, and DeYoung Family Zoo in Michigan.
Roadside Zoo News obtained evidence that for more than a decade Rivera has failed to inspect the records at some of the roadside zoos she’s required to inspect, allowing the owners to get away with medical neglect and wildlife trafficking with no oversight.
Court records indicate Rivera developed personal relationships with roadside zoo owners, sometimes providing them with privileged information. One former Wild Bill’s Exotics employee witnessed a USDA inspection that Rivera completed. The inspection consisted of Rivera talking with the licensee’s wife about financial issues the wife was having and setting up a lunch date for the next day, court documents indicate.
Employees at Special Memories Zoo repeatedly notified Rivera that the animals were being neglected and starved to death. Rivera refused to take action.
All photos were taken at Special Memories Zoo.
Several former employees sent Rivera photographs of the decaying corpses of animals that died at Special Memories Zoo. Rivera told one former zoo employee that she “can’t do anything about animals that are already dead.”
Special Memories Zoo continued operating for more than two decades and was only shut down after the Animal Legal Defense Fund sued the facility for violating the Endangered Species Act. Many of the surviving animals were sent to DeYoung Zoo where they later disappeared. Rivera ignored repeated requests to follow up on the location of the missing animals.
Roadside Zoo News submitted complaints about Rivera to the OIG in March and July 2021.
Last November, the USDA sent a second inspector along with Rivera to inspect DeYoung Zoo. At that inspection, Rivera told DeYoung Zoo owners Bud DeYoung and Carrie Cramer that because of the complaints submitted by Roadside Zoo News she had to have a second inspector with her during the inspection. DeYoung Zoo subsequently posted the complainant’s personal information on social media.
Roadside Zoo News submitted a third complaint in December 2021.
“Jessica Rivera has never done anything for the welfare of the animals at the facilities she is required to inspect,” according to the complaint. “She has allowed roadside zoo owners to get away with animal neglect and mistreatment for years with no intervention. She has ignored blatant animal cruelty and abuse in order to further her personal relationships with roadside zoo owners. Jessica Rivera is not fit to be a USDA inspector and her unethical and borderline illegal activity must be stopped.”
Rivera inspected DeYoung Zoo again in February 2022. USDA APHIS Assistant Director Andrew Jones, of Maryland, supervised that inspection.
Documents show Rivera continued completing inspections through April 14, when all of her inspection reports ceased. She has not completed a USDA APHIS inspection in nearly four months. A LinkedIn profile for Rivera that listed her USDA APHIS inspector position was subsequently removed.
USDA inspector Kevin Wilkin was brought into Wisconsin to complete inspections at the facilities that Rivera normally inspected. Wilkin was previously involved in inspecting the Moulton Chinchilla Ranch in Ohio which was shut down last October.
Wilkin immediately got to work citing roadside zoos for violations that Rivera overlooked for years. During a May inspection of Glacier Ridge Animal Park, Wilkin found that the licensee was unable to provide any records that are required to be kept by USDA license-holders including the program of veterinary care, sales records and a record of animals on hand.
Wilkin cited Glacier Ridge with three violations. Instead of complying with the regulations, Glacier Ridge posted on social media that they’re closing at the end of the summer and selling their animals.
The USDA OIG did not respond to repeated calls for information. USDA APHIS declined an open records request for Rivera’s disciplinary records. USDA Animal Care media contact Andre Bell said APHIS does not comment on USDA inspector status.
The removal of Rivera from APHIS inspections and her replacement with a more qualified inspector is a huge victory for animals because it will ensure greater enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act at roadside zoos in the Midwest.