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Catoctin Zoo Defends Record In The Face Of Complaint

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The entrance to the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo near Frederick, Md.
Elliott Francis
The entrance to the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo near Frederick, Md.

Zoos and wildlife facilities can often be the source of praise or criticism for the way in which animals are housed and treated. The Catoctin Wildlife Preserve and Zoo in Maryland has been the recipient of both.   

The preserve sits on 25 rustic acres just north of Frederick. To some, the animal enclosures appear open and accessible, but when Maryland resident Edna Josell visited the park last month, its condition disturbed her.

"…It looked dilapidated, it looked unkempt, there were a lot of overgrown shrubs, and bushes around the cages and even inside some of them," Josell says. 

Josell, a licensed veterinary technician, insists many of the animals, including sun bears and large cats, appeared bored and lacked interactive stimulation. The temperature was near 100 during her visit, and the behavior of one animal in particular sticks in her mind.

"There was an arctic wolf going round and round in his cage," she says. "There was nowhere to cool himself, and he just went from one shaded spot to the next."

The facility has been cited in the past by the Department of Agriculture for violations of the Animal Welfare Act involving failure to properly maintain facilities and primary enclosures. In 1988, the zoo's license was suspended for 20 days for a similar infraction, and this past May, Catoctin paid a $12,000 fine to settle a USDA complaint of non-compliance involving veterinary care, handling, housing and husbandry. 

Richard Hahn, the director of the zoo, says unannounced inspections are always welcome. 

"We have always accepted that as a positive influence, because if they say you should do this better or do this another way then we knows where to improve," Hahn says. 

Standing in an enclosure for a snow leopard that is very overgrown — similar to one described earlier by Edna Josell — the zoo assistant director June Bellizzi says there a good reason for that.

 "It's camouflage for the animal," she says. "You give an animal someplace where it feels comfortable; it's like a warm blanket at night. It's comfortable for her." 

While Both Hahn and Bellizzi admit the preserve is not perfect, they insist it is far removed from the characterization of critics. In the USDA's most recent report, the agency notes, "The violations, while serious, did not directly endanger the animals and there were no hurt, sick, or abused animals disclosed." 

Bellizzi offers advice to all zoo visitors.

"Learn and understand and don't judge just because we have animals in what you perceive to be a cage," she says. "It's conservation in the smallest of steps."

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