A newly released U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report indicates a second giraffe has passed away at an East Texas roadside attraction in less than a year.
Jason Clay of East Texas Zoo and Gator Park, Grand Saline, and Franklin Drive Thru Safari, Franklin, was cited at a June USDA inspection with seven violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), including a critical violation for failing to provide his animals with veterinary care.
The inspector found that Clay had not made any formal arrangements with a veterinarian and the animals at Franklin Drive Thru Safari were not under veterinary care.
The end of an aardvark’s tail was missing and rather than seek veterinary attention for the animal, the facility was treating the aardvark’s tail with a spray.
The facility had recently acquired a pygmy hippo that died and the animal had not been seen by a veterinarian prior to its death and a necropsy was not performed.
The USDA inspector also inquired about a young giraffe that recently died and the inspector was told the giraffe died of a “twisted gut.”
“There were no medical records available for review to confirm this diagnosis,” the USDA report said. “The attending veterinarian was unable to be contacted for confirmation because his/her information was never provided by the licensee.”
This is the second giraffe owned by Clay that has died of a “twisted gut” in the past year. In October 2020, a giraffe named Azizi died at East Texas Zoo and Gator Park, also reportedly of a “twisted gut.” Azizi was the son of April, a giraffe made famous at Animal Adventure Park, NY. Six months after Azizi’s death, April was euthanized due to worsening arthritis, the park reported.
It is a federal violation for Clay to fail to have an attending veterinarian and adequate veterinary care for the animals at his roadside zoo and drive-thru safari.
“When animals die acutely and suspiciously, as seems to be the case with the giraffe and the hippo, the veterinarian should be notified,” the USDA report said. “Determining the cause of death can be important for the health of other animals at the facility.”
The USDA cited Franklin Drive Thru Safari for their pay-to-play baby animal room. The benches in the room were “covered in a layer of dark organic material and excreta.” The inspector said sections of the walls and the climbing areas for the animals were also covered with “brown splashes” and organic material.
The baby room contained adolescent lemurs that were allowed to have direct contact with zoo visitors.
“There is a risk of direct injury to both the public and the animals in the interaction area,” the USDA inspector noted. “Animals must be under direct control at all times during interactive sessions.”
The drive thru safari was cited for several enclosures that were in a state of disrepair and were falling apart. Wooden branches used for enrichment had come loose and fallen down in an enclosure and had 1-2 inch screws sticking out that could injure the animals.
The inspector noted the housing structure in the lemur island display is made of wood “that is sagging and showing signs of deterioration and disrepair.”
The inspector also found that the records for more than 200 animals were missing.
Franklin Drive Thru Safari had acquired more than 139 animals without documenting where the animals had come from.
73 animals were also missing from the roadside zoo with no disposition records showing where the animals were sent.
“Acquisition and disposition records are required so that animals being used in regulated activities can be accurately tracked to ensure their legal acquisition, proper care, and humane transportation,” the USDA report said.
Clay was ordered to have the most serious violations corrected by June 25 and the less serious violations corrected by July 1.
A Roadside Zoo News representative visited Franklin Drive Thru Safari on June 30 and at that visit it appeared the majority of the violations had not been corrected. The structure on lemur island was still in disrepair, a deer appeared underweight and unwell, and a coatimundi exhibited symptoms of zoochosis while holding up its rear leg.
Photographs posted on social media on July 5 and July 14 indicate the animals are not under direct control during interactive sessions. Several visitors have posted photos of themselves interacting with adolescent lemurs since the June inspection.
The facility also took a baby monkey, fennec fox and coatimundi to a library and let children hold and interact with them, according to the library’s social media post.
Several recent Franklin Drive Thru Safari visitors left Google reviews outlining the neglectful conditions for the animals and expressing concerns for the giraffes.
“None of the staff were wearing masks or doing anything to protect the animals,” one zoo visitor said in a review. “Anyone could walk up to the giraffes and feed them anything they want. No one was there to stop them. It was a very sad trip.”
Four giraffes remain at Franklin Drive Thru Safari and one giraffe remains at East Texas Zoo and Gator Park. The last time the USDA inspected East Texas Zoo and Gator Park was in 2019.
Roadside Zoo News remains hopeful authorities will take action before any more animals die without veterinary care at Clay’s decrepit East Texas roadside attractions.
June 2021 inspection report: