Animal Legal Defense Fund, a legal advocacy organization, recently served Deer Haven Mini Zoo near Keymar with an intent to sue, alleging the roadside zoo violated the federal Endangered Species Act and state laws against animal cruelty.
The zoo, located just over the Carroll County line in Frederick County, was started in the early 1990s. It has housed more than 50 animals including lemurs, black bears, coatimundi, buffalo and rabbits.
Deer Haven Mini Zoo did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Animal Legal Defense Fund cited video and photographic evidence, visitor observations, and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) inspection reports as the basis for their conclusions of mistreatment.
Members of the Animal Legal Defense Fund have visited the zoo several times, said Danny Lutz, an attorney with the organization. The group is made up of around 200,000 members and includes a team of civil and criminal attorneys.
"When our members are shocked by the conditions of captivity, it often finds its ways to the attorneys at the organization," he said.
Inspection reports from the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which are available publicly, indicate that inspectors have noted problems during routine inspections on multiple occasions.
A report dated Jan 30, 2018, notes seven areas needing improvement.
One, marked as a repeat sanitation offense, notes a buildup of feces and excreta in a rabbit's cage. Another states that "fresh rat holes were observed in the area along the perimeter fence line behind the coati and arctic fox enclosures."
The report also noted rust and wear in the water bowls for the lemur cage and a buildup of hair and material on their perch. Insufficient gates were observed in the goat and highland cow enclosures.
"The facility houses over 50 animals including regulated and non-regulated species. There some non-compliant items that have still not been adequately corrected," the inspector stated in the report. "Based upon non-compliant items related to cleaning, sanitation, and maintenance there is an insufficient number of employees to adequately perform all of the husbandry responsibilities of the facility on a daily basis."
According to a prepared release by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, allegedly, video footage collected by visitors to the zoo shows ill animals vomiting, suffering from diarrhea, or struggling to breathe.
The alleged violations of the Endangered Species Acts stem from the environments in which lemurs are housed.
Recently the Animal Defense Law fund was a plaintiff in a successful lawsuit against an Iowa animal park that was ruled to be violating the Endangered Species Act in the way that its lemurs and tigers were housed.
Lutz said this problem is widespread across the country and "thousands of animals suffer in roadside zoos."
The organization has offered to assist with relocation of the animals to sanctuaries at no cost to the owners of Deer Haven Mini Zoo.
"The members' interests are in providing protection to the animals that they deserve. Any way that that can happen is a good outcome," Lutz said. "It would be wonderful if the owners could work wih Animal Legal Defense Fund to move animals to sanctuary."
If conditions don't change, the group is willing to move forward with filing suit under both federal and state law, according to the release.
Lutz said the intent to sue letter gives the recipient 60 days to respond from the date of receipt.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund is not the first group that has offered to relocate animals from the zoo to sanctuaries. PETA has offered to do so also at no cost to the zoo. The group issued an action alert urging the zoo to close and surrender its animals to sanctuary facilities.
In 2016, an Asiatic bear named Lily was surrendered from Deer Haven Mini Zoo to to The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado. The animal was being kept in a corn crib, a bin built to store ears of corn and was obese from lack of exercise, according to a release from PETA.
Lutz said he was not aware of any other situation where an animal was re-homed to a sanctuary from Deer Haven Mini Zoo.
According to a 1991 Baltimore Sunarticle, the zoo began when owner Bradley Gerwig bought white-tailed fawns "just for a hobby," and the collection of animals expanded to include more exotic animals, prompting him to open his land to the public.