BY TOM BUSSELBERG
FARMINGTON – Complaints about inhumane conditions such as filth or inadequate space to house Lagoon’s animals are unfounded, an official with the amusement park said Monday.
“We are a licensed, accredited zoo,” under jurisdiction of the USDA, subject to unscheduled inspections at any time, said Dick Andrew, public affairs director.
He was responding to claims put forth by a handful of demonstrators Saturday who said Lagoon treats its six dozen animals inhumanely.
That federal agency conducts unannounced inspections at will. Two such inspections last September showed everything was in compliance, according to records reviewed by the Clipper.
That differs sharply from comments by Jordan Kasteler, who has led a fight to get the park’s zoo closed. He cited a 2011 USDA finding that called for better parasite testing. Leopards with the parasites had been treated immediately, but the inspector said subsequent fecal tests weren’t performed.
“We all love Lagoon, but we want to get rid of the zoo,” said Danell Robb, who participated in the demonstration with her son, Raden. “They might as well take the animals to a sanctuary.”
She added that a large Wasatch Front vegan community opposes the confinement of animals.
“They’re (animals) not a main attraction,” Kasteler said. “Unless you’re on the Wild Kingdom train ride,” they’re not visible.
Lagoon doesn’t meet minimal federal standards established in the Animal Welfare Act, he said in a press release.
Lagoon had been cited “numerous times” by the USDA for “failure to provide veterinary care to sick and dying animals, filthy enclosures, inadequately trained employees, and failure to provide animals with minimum space, the release said.
“Lagoon has had a high death rate and several unexplained deaths,” it added.
One animal needed veterinary care in 2006 but, of the three veterinarians on retainer, the vet assigned to that animal was on vacation, Andrew said. But veterinarians check each animal at least once a month and work with a staff of six trained Lagoon employees, four of whom are on site every day of the year.
“They (USDA) are very exacting, very thorough,” down to requiring salt blocks to be in a specific place, Andrew said.
The space visible from the train ride is only a fraction of area each animal has available away from visitors’ views, he said. Andrew would not provide the Clipper access to the zoo or to copies of any of the reports.
“None of the animals ever lived in the wild,” except for an eagle that was hit by a semi-truck, lost a wing, and has been cared for by Lagoon ever since, he said.
Animals have been at the resort for more than 50 years, Andrew said, and have been visible from the train since it opened in 1967, information from the park’s web page said.
Kasteler’s group has sponsored an online petition drive asking that the zoo be closed. About one-third of the signers are from Utah, he said.