The animals at Union Ridge Wildlife Center in Wilkesville, Ohio, are being rehomed after the roadside zoo’s owner, Cy Vierstra, was sentenced to five years in prison earlier this month.
An Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA) representative said today that he could not comment on the ongoing investigation but confirmed ODA is working with Union Ridge to rehome the animals.
Vierstra was sentenced Feb. 6 to four years and 11 months in prison and $340,000 in restitution on five felony counts for using his position as the Vinton Township fiscal officer to steal about $287,000 in public funds, some of which he used for purchases to support his roadside zoo.
“These public funds should have gone to roads, fire and police protection, and other services taxpayers rely on, not for a twisty slide for someone’s pet primates,” Auditor of State Keith Faber said in a press release, referring to one of the purchases Vierstra made with misappropriated funds.
Vierstra created fake invoices, billing slips, and other fraudulent documents to hide his illegal activities. He’s currently incarcerated at Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail.
Cy Vierstra mugshot.
While on bond for the felony charges, Vierstra hid an endangered chimpanzee named Tonka that was smuggled across state lines by Missouri exotic animal dealer Tonia Haddix in violation of a court order that awarded the chimp to PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).
Vierstra later returned the chimp to Haddix. The transactions were reportedly filmed for an upcoming documentary by filmmaker Eric Goode, who directed Tiger King.
U.S. Marshals raided Haddix’s Missouri home in June 2022 and confiscated Tonka. He was placed at a sanctuary where he’s reportedly thriving.
Read more about Cy Vierstra:
ODA opened an investigation into Union Ridge late last year, after receiving complaints that Vierstra was violating Ohio’s Dangerous Animal Act.
Vierstra and his partner operate their roadside zoo as an Airbnb, allowing guests unsupervised access to the animals.
As of Oct. 2022, Union Ridge’s animal population included:
Five brown capuchin monkeys
Two white-headed capuchin monkeys
Two black-handed spider monkeys
Two Japanese macaques
Three ring-tailed lemurs
An outside source confirmed the two tigers were rehomed to a facility in Minnesota. Officials are in the process of finding placement and relocating the other animals. None of the animals will be euthanized.
The source noted Vierstra and his partner were given the option of rehoming the animals at Union Ridge to avoid charges.
The Union Ridge Wildlife Center signs have been removed in anticipation of the animals’ relocation and the roadside zoo is officially closed.