A wildlife park formerly fined $8,000 for numerous animal welfare violations has once again been cited by federal investigators — this time for dead animals, enclosures in need of repair, and excessive flies.
Wilstem Inc, which operates a wildlife park in Paoli, Indiana, was officially warned by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in December 2022 regarding the death of a watusi calf who in October was run over by a wagon carting visitors through the park’s drive through “safari.”
A federal inspection report from that date notes that the wagon operator “felt a bump” and then discovered the deceased calf under the rear tire of the wagon. The calf reportedly died on impact — a death the inspector noted could have been prevented had the vehicle had a fender or protective tire shield.
Most recently, Wilstem was cited for four violations — including one deemed “critical” by inspectors — at its most recent inspection in July 2023.
In an emailed statement, Wilstem Inc said they were appealing what they described as “inaccurate non-compliances” documented by the federal inspector.
“We have obtained legal counsel and cannot comment any further without compromising our ability to appeal and ability to pursue other legal recourses to protect ourselves, animal agriculture, and responsible animal ownership,” the facility said.
In the July 2023 report, a federal inspector noted that several visitors reported to park staff a downed, distressed buffalo calf who appeared to be having trouble breathing. The park’s reception area reportedly advised the staff to tell the public that “the calf was born earlier that morning and was fine, it was just drying in the sun.” When management arrived after a delay of one to two hours, the buffalo was dead, according to the inspection report.
Per federal law, exhibitors are required to monitor animals, provide veterinary care as soon as issues are noted, and medically intervene. Wilstem did not provide veterinary care to the calf and also did not order a necropsy to determine the cause of death, according to the report.
The inspector also noted a 7-month old giraffe named Marcello who was underweight, with “prominent hip bones and hip pins.” Staff, when confronted, were “not aware” of the situation and also referred to the skeletal giraffe as “more ideal” than past situations where he was overweight.
“The allowance of the underweight condition of Marcello shows a lack of understanding/knowledge in diet requirements and the ability to recognize proper giraffe body condition,” the inspector wrote.
The report noted the giraffe’s diet had been cut to “prepare” for summer public feeding encounters after the giraffe showed less interest in accepting lettuce from visitors when he was on the full diet.
Although the inspector’s statements reference a lack of knowledge among existing staff to properly identify health issues in the animals, the same report notes that corrections were “already implemented” in the form of staggered lunch breaks so that “one staff member is present at all times when the park is open.”
The July report also notes flies “too numerous to count” in a monkey enclosure and also flies in a kangaroo enclosure, as well as a peeling enclosure with unsealed surfaces exposed and in need of repair.
Lady Freethinker formerly reported on violations at Wilstem Wildlife Park — including an $8,000 fine after inspectors noted a sick llama killed with an excavator bucket, an escaped eland who broke her neck during a botched recovery attempt, and an escaped kangaroo named Perth who was shot to death after being on the loose for at least two days.
Affidavits, obtained through a public records request, also showed inspector’s concerns that the USDA was not taking their citations seriously and that the park’s management had a history of lying to federal inspectors and trying to “hush up” animal deaths and mistreatments — including a donkey with a protruding bone who was left to suffer overnight before being shot to death in the morning, according to the documents.
The park has had 14 violations cited by federal inspectors — including five “critical” ones — since September 2020, according to USDA records.
We thank the more than 38,000 people who have signed our petition urging authorities to inspect this wildlife park. We’ve sent a follow up letter to the USDA in light of the new violations, and we’ll continue to advocate for these animals and monitor the park.
If you haven’t already, please sign our petition. And remember that “drive through” safaris are not harmless for the animals, whose welfare often takes a back seat to profit. We strongly urge everyone to choose more compassionate, animal-free “entertainment” instead.