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Wisconsin bill to limit oversight at roadside zoos fails again

A bill that would have exempted roadside zoos accredited by a zoo special interest group from Wisconsin licensing requirements to ensure the humane care and treatment of animals failed to pass the legislative session this week, just two years after Gov. Tony Evers vetoed a nearly identical bill.

Wisconsin is one of only a handful of states with no laws prohibiting private individuals from owning dangerous exotic animals. The lax laws have led the state to become a hotbed for roadside zoos that exhibit animals in substandard conditions for a profit.

Roadside zoos treat wild animals as a commodity, often keeping them in tiny enclosures in neglectful conditions. Republican lawmakers have repeatedly introduced bills aimed at removing what little oversight the state has.

Under current law, roadside zoos must obtain a permit from the Department of Natural Resources to possess, exhibit, sell, purchase or rehabilitate native wild animals in Wisconsin and meet requirements to ensure humane enclosures and safe handling of animals.

Public zoos and aquariums, and those that are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), a national zoo accrediting organization that requires rigorous animal care standards for accreditation, are exempt from state licensing requirements.

The latest bill was championed by Judy Domaszek, owner of the roadside zoo Wildwood Wildlife Park in Minocqua. Roadside Zoo News obtained footage in 2023 of numerous animals at Wildwood Wildlife Park exhibiting signs of "zoochosis" a psychological condition characterized by repetitive behaviors and self mutilating behavior caused by the conditions of unnatural confinement, substandard care and insufficient environmental enrichment.

A ringtail lemur (above) and a Greater Grison (below) pace their enclosures at Wildwood Wildlife Park.

In 2021, Roadside Zoo News obtained footage of a porcupine exhibiting signs of zoochosis at Wildwood Wildlife Park.

In 2023, the same porcupine continues exhibiting zoochosis at Wildwood Wildlife Park.

The bill would have exempted roadside zoos accredited by the deceivingly named Zoological Association of America (ZAA) from state licensing requirements.

Wildwood Wildlife Park is the only roadside zoo in the state accredited by ZAA. A representative for Roadside Zoo News testified ZAA is a "made up accrediting organization for roadside zoos to dupe the unsuspecting public to believe their visit to the zoo actually helps animals, while the ZAA-accredited facilities buy, sell and trade wild animals behind the scenes. Some of these animals end up in the private pet trade or at other roadside zoos, where they pose a public safety risk."

Matt Schoebel, who owns the roadside zoos Timbavati Wildlife Park in Wisconsin Dells and Shamba Safari in Neshkoro, previously advocated for a nearly identical bill that would have exempted all roadside zoos in Wisconsin from state licensing requirements. That bill was vetoed in 2022. Schoebel testified during a hearing for the latest bill that he was in the process of becoming ZAA accredited, likely in anticipation of the bill becoming law.

The bill failed this week, requiring roadside zoos to continue meeting state licensing requirements regardless of ZAA accreditation.

Roadside Zoo News is grateful that yet another attempt to weaken oversight at roadside zoos has failed and we believe this is a sign of things to come. The public is becoming aware of the true horrors that occur at roadside zoos and is no longer supporting the neglect and mistreatment of animals for money. We demand stronger laws protecting these magnificent creatures and prosecution for the offenders who abuse them.


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