WILMINGTON – Tregembo Animal Park, a longstanding attraction along Carolina Beach Road that’s been under scrutiny by animal rights activists for years, was recently cited for multiple federal welfare violations.
During a Feb. 2 routine inspection, the U.S. Department of Agriculture found an injured pig was unattended to and multiple unsound conditions endangered the animals in captivity.
Kim, a 17-year-old black pot-bellied pig, was lame in her back legs during the review. According to the inspection report, the veterinarian was never called.
The pig was described as hunched and walking with “significant stiffness” in her rear legs. The report states the zoo noted the abnormal gait before the inspection, but in a phone call with the USDA, the vet said she was unaware of lameness in any of Tregembo’s three pigs.
The vet then contacted the zookeepers to learn more and issue a medical care plan, according to the report.
Per the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), licensed exhibitors are required to maintain veterinary care. The report states the facility corrected the lack of communication and a treatment plan has begun.
The report listed other AWA violations, as well, including puzzle feeders for the primates “coated with brown debris” and multiple laceration risks in the enclosures.
According to the report, a dislodged ramp had the potential to trip goats; a cat enclosure was rusty; gating around the kangaroos was corroded enough to tear their flesh; the fence was leaning in the water buffalo exhibit; and there were sharp edges in the hogs housing. All issues must be rectified by June 3.
The roadside zoo is known for attracting out-of-towners en route to Kure and Carolina beaches with its colossal tiger jaw entryway. It has earned a controversial reputation locally through social media and publicized actions taken by animal rights advocates.
Julie Philpot, of Stoneville, N.C., said she visited the park last August while on vacation. After, she left an online review saying she cried in her car because of the conditions.
“All of the animals were in enclosures too small for animals inside,” Philpot told Port City Daily. “They were also very dirty and there weren’t any stimulants for the animals to engage with. It was a hot day and I didn’t see any water for a majority of the animals, and some didn’t have shade to keep cool.”
In 2017 a New Hanover County resident and UNCW student filed a lawsuit claiming the living conditions of two grizzly-black bear mixes – Ben and Bogey – were below standards set by state law. The plaintiffs demanded rehoming the animals.
According to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Tregembo agreed to release the bears if the suit was dropped. Ben and Bogey were transported by PETA to The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado.
“Signs of neglect are everywhere you turn in Tregembo Animal Park,” said Debbie Metzler, associate director for captive animal law enforcement for PETA.
PETA has kept tabs on the zoo for years, now. With photos sent in by concerned visitors to the zoo, the animal rights organization has submitted multiple complaints to the USDA last year alone. PETA said those included ones about overweight pigs, underweight camels, a thin zebra, a crane with an open wound, and primates who were rocking and self-harming, abnormal behaviors PETA suggests are signs of psychological distress.
None of these issues are cited in the most recent report.
“The USDA seemingly repeatedly brushed aside these concerns,” Metzler said.
PETA must submit a Freedom of Information Act request to learn of the response to their complaints.
The last inspection of Tregembo took place in July 2019. At that time the facility was in compliance.
Before then, the park had 10 “non-compliant items” documented by the USDA dating back to July 2014. In 2017, inspectors discovered Shadow, a black leopard, with about 1.5 centimeters of pink tissue exposed at the tip of her tail. There was no veterinary care.
Tregembo did not respond to requests for comment.
The Tregembo family has run the zoo since 1952, according to their website. After its annual winter hiatus, the park is expected to reopen later this month for the summer season. It charges $12 per adult and $8 per child for entry. Plus, visitors can buy bags of corn and peanuts to feed the animals.
It’s one of approximately 2,800 exhibitors licensed with the USDA. Only a couple hundred of those facilities are accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), an independent organization with its own standards for exhibitors. Tregembo is not one of them.
Metzler said there are almost 10 times as many roadside zoos in the U.S. as AZA establishments.
“That’s where PETA has to focus its efforts because that’s where animals are being denied veterinary care, are living in cages in disrepair, risking injury to their limbs or being cut by sharp metal fences,” Metzler said.
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