The misinformation coming from Noah's Ark Animal Sanctuary founder Jama Hedgecoth, her son Charlie and daughter-in-law Allison and their supporters regarding the ongoing changes and improvements at the sanctuary is unacceptable. Roadside Zoo News set out to fact check some of the statements made about the facility located in Locust Grove, Georgia.
Statement: “(The Noah’s Ark) Board of Directors decided to give (new president) Shelly Lakly an annual salary of $144,000.”
While it is true that Lakly's salary is $144,000, there is no evidence to show that this salary is unreasonable. It is unclear what salary Jama, the former president is recieving. IRS records show that in 2019 Jama was receiving a salary of $101,040 so it is reasonable to assume that, with rising costs and inflation, her salary has increased in the past three years (source). IRS records also show that for years Jama approved the salary for now-former board member Raymond Jordan for working only 10 hours a week for Noah’s Ark and 10 hours a week for a related organization. In 2016, Jordan was paid a salary of $87,861, about $91.00 per hour; in 2017 Jordan was paid a salary of $91,033, about $95.00 an hour; and in 2018 Jordan was paid a salary of $44,713, about $47.00 an hour. If Lakly’s salary is in fact $144,000 then that is about $60-$75 an hour depending on whether Lakly puts in a 40 or 50 hour work week, an amount that is significantly less than what Jordan was paid in 2016 and 2017.
Statement: “This (salary) is well over industry standard, making Lakly the second highest paid employee at any animal sanctuary in the entire country.”
A quick review of IRS records show that in 2019 the salary of The Wild Animal Sanctuary’s executive director was $258,136 (source); the president of Chimp Haven made $173,831 (source); and the president of Save the Chimps, where Lakly was formerly employed, made $158,456 (source).
Statement: “This week she (Shelly Lakly) fired a 15-year employee for saving 21 wolves from being euthanized and causing the animals and volunteers to be in danger.”
Allison was given a 30 day suspension for going against the president’s wishes and bringing in 21 wolfdog hybrids without approval.
Statement: “(The plan) is to shut the entire sanctuary down and sell the land to a developer.”
According to the IRS website: "The organization must not be organized or operated for the benefit of private interests, and no part of a section 501(c)(3) organization's net earnings may inure to the benefit of any private shareholder or individual." This means no assets from the nonprofit can go to the board members or the employees. The Noah's Ark articles of incorporation state that the property can only be sold to another nonprofit (source).
Statement: “(The plan is) to turn Noah’s Ark into a for profit roadside zoo where they will buy and sell animals to make money."
Noah’s Ark is not accredited by any sanctuary accrediting organization and is already a roadside zoo. Records show Jama has previously purchased animals from other roadside zoos.
In 2011 Noah's Ark obtained five tigers from Joe Exotic of Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park who was featured in the Netflix series Tiger King. Exotic is currently serving a 21 year prison sentence for 17 charges of animal abuse and two counts of attempted murder-for-hire for hiring a hitman to kill Carole Baskin of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida.
A video submitted to Roadside Zoo News shows Jama interacting with an adult tiger. True sanctuaries do not allow staff or visitors to directly interact with dangerous wild animals because of the risk of injury to both people and animals.
Statement: “At best (the animals) will have to go to new homes at other sanctuaries.”
There are no plans to shut down Noah’s Ark or to move the animals to other facilities.
Statement: “At worse those deemed a monetary liability will be euthanized.”
It is a violation of federal law to kill endangered species of animals (other than humane euthanasia for medical reasons) and there are no plans to euthanize the animals.
Statement: “The president was brought on by the chair and then 8 months later brought before a vote.” “She was hired by the chairman without board approval in 2019.”
Lakly was employed by Save the Chimps in 2019 (source). Lakly was hired at Noah's Ark in November 2021 and her new position was announced in a January 2022 newsletter. The Atlanta Business Chronicle wrote an article about her new position at Noah’s Ark in February 2022 (source).
Statement: “Carole (Baskin) has made a statement that she is in support of the Hedgecoths.”
Carole Baskin has not made any public statements about the situation.
Statement: “The staff changes create dangerous conditions that disregard industry standards, placing staff, animals and the general public at risk.”
There is no evidence that any safety standards have changed or that the animals or public are at risk.
Statement: “There has never been a safety concern or single incident under the management of the founder Jama Hedgecoth.”
A former employee said an Arctic fox escaped and was never recovered, a wolf escaped and killed another wolf, a bear named Baloo escaped repeatedly and a lioness named Liberty escaped and entered a tiger’s enclosure.
Statement: “(The board chairman) was able to hire Shelly Lakly without Jama or (Jama's son) Charlie's support.”
Jama voted to approve hiring Lakly. Charlie was not a board member at the time and therefore did not vote. Nonprofit organizations are governed by a board of directors and a majority vote is needed to make decisions. Sandra Minuitti of Charity Navigator told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that there are a number of red flags in Noah’s Ark’s financial records, particularly so many Hedgecoth family members on both of the charity’s boards (source). If the Hedgecoths want complete control over the operations at Noah’s Ark, that is legally a for-profit business model.
Statement: "The investigation (into the charity scam) led by the Secretary of State revealed zero wrong doing on Noah’s Ark’s part."
The investigation found Jama “unlawfully solicited and collected charitable contributions from persons located in the State of Georgia.” (source)
As part of the consent decree that Jama signed, she agreed not to “take any action or to make or permit to be made any public statements creating the impression that the Consent Order is without factual basis.”
Statement: “(The board) hired a PR firm to try and salvage their image after enormous public outcry, all with funds donated to Noah’s Ark.” “Shelly has hired a PR firm with donated dollars and they have stopped the interviews from running tonight on Fox 5 news.”
The board has not hired a PR firm. However, Jama has previously hired a PR firm using donor funds to improve Noah's Ark's image after whistleblowers shared the truth about the conditions. The only reason any news stories were postponed is likely due to the awareness that the news outlets received false information and could not legally publish an inaccurate story.
Statement: “If there were any laws broken—any state or federal charges against Noah’s Ark—we could not and would not continue bringing animals there.”
Noah’s Ark was cited with five violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act in April 2022 including three charges related to a wolfdog (source). The facility recently obtained an additional 21 wolfdogs.
Statement: “Noah’s Ark (founder Jama Hedgecoth) has an order against her (former employee) for slander/libel/defamation.”
Jama Hedgecoth did use donor funds to repeatedly sue past employees in civil court in an attempt to prevent them from sharing their observations about their experience working there but she was not successful. The past employees then successfully sued Jama in federal court and won settlements in an undisclosed amount (source). The settlements were paid for by the nonprofit.
Statement: “Now there is no veterinarian and there are no drugs to sedate an animal if needed and there is no experienced caretaker to administer the drugs if they are needed.”
Noah's Ark has already entered into an agreement with multiple new veterinarians.
What we’re seeing at Noah’s Ark is a classic case of projection combined with harassment and bullying intended as a means to maintain control. We sincerely hope that every person who has posted false statements is held legally accountable and the Hedgecoths are held criminally liable for their fraudulent activity.