Lagoon Amusement Park’s the Wild Kingdom Train features a number of exotic animals. The attraction is under fire from members of a local animal rights group who are concerned about the animals’ treatment and living conditions.
Several protesters have been rallying to get the animals removed from Lagoon, a place that they see as unfit for wild animals, and placed into a sanctuary. Utah Animals Rights Coalition (UARC) is the group backing these protests and calling for action by Lagoon and its patrons.
“I had never done animal activism at this point, but last year, my awareness of this was raised over a family dinner table discussion about the recent trip to Lagoon,” says Jordan Kasteler, a former Salt Lake Community College student, “From there, I made it my mission to help these animals.”
Kasteler heads the campaign to have the animals removed and runs the Facebook page “Stop Imprisoning Animals! Lagoon Amusement Park” which has close to 1500 “Likes.” The group has an internet petition with over 30,000 signatures on Care2.com and Change.org, and has grown international notoriety.
“Wild animals that normally roam for miles in the wild are kept in small cages on slabs of concrete day in and day out,” says Kasteler. “They are subject to Utah’s volatile weather and noise pollution from the rides. Occasionally, you’ll have kids throwing rocks or trash at the animals too, and they have no protection from that.”
Dick Andrew, VP of Marketing and spokesperson for Lagoon says that the protesters don’t represent the mainstream Lagoon patron.
“We all know that not all of us, I’m talking about of the 2 to 3 billion people on the planet, have the same sensitivities or the same interests,” says Andrew. “We know that there are some people that, there’s nothing you could do that would satisfy them in whatever their cause is.”
Andrew says the claims that Kasteler and the UARC have made against Lagoon are false, and that the last offense was in 2006. Andrew says they have a trained staff of six animal care employees, at least four of which are on duty 365 days a year. They also have three expert veterinarians which visit the animals monthly. They are subjected to a number of unannounced visits and inspections to make sure they are complying with regulations.
“As strange as this sounds, the powers that be have a love of animals, and I know that sounds incongruous with what I’m saying. Frankly, that’s why we have animals at Lagoon,” says Andrew. “We are in absolute compliance with the rules and regulations from the United States Department of Agriculture. We have to be. If we weren’t, we couldn’t be in business.”
According to Kasteler, Lagoon has had 18 citations from the USDA over the past 15 years for violating the Animal Welfare Act.
“The AWA only covers a minimal standard of care for certain types of animals. In other words, it’s hard to get a citation,” says Kasteler.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) recently came out with a statement on their website that includes a list of grievances and violations against Lagoon. It states that Lagoon has failed to meet the minimal federal standards, with violations that include cruelty to animals, animals kept in small enclosures and unexplained deaths.
Lagoon has about 80 animals residing in their zoo including Siberian tigers, African lions, zebras and deer. All but one animal, a bald eagle that was injured, have never lived in the wild according to Andrew. He said that the majority of the animals they take in come from zoos that have failed or people that could no longer keep the animals for various reasons.
“I know there are people that none of this is satisfying to them because they’ve told us they’re not going to rest until all of these animals are sent to a sanctuary,” says Andrew. “Well, what a myth that is. Most of our animals, we took them in from sanctuaries.”
Andrew says that the animals have better healthcare than most people and that they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on the care and maintenance of their animals. They were inspected twice this year and both times received a “no non-compliance items identified during this inspection” report.
“I’ve wanted to ask [the protesters] but haven’t talked to them,” said Andrew. “Do they mean a sanctuary like the one that was back in the Midwest, where the guy went berserk and turned all his animals loose and law enforcement ended up having to shoot the animals? Is that the kind of sanctuary they have in mind?”
Andrew doesn’t see the activists as a much of a threat to Lagoon’s business, and says that only a handful show up to the protests. He says he is worried about the protesters’ safety, as they organize so close to the busy road. According to him, only about 12 to 18 people have shown up for the protests, many of them children.
Kasteler disputes that count. He says they have done nine protests so far, with around 35 to 45 people showing up to each one, and he sees interest growing.
“Unfortunately, Farmington City has put us far away from Lagoon, as Lagoon owns most property around there,” says Kasteler. “Utah Department of Transportation allowed us to use a strip of land they owned across from Lagoon’s parking lot the last protest, but Farmington City police are fighting that. It’s clear whose pockets are lined by Lagoon’s economic impact.”