USDA reports deficiencies at South Dakota wildlife sanctuary

Farm Forum

SPEARFISH, S.D. (AP) – Federal inspectors who revoked the license of a wildlife sanctuary in western South Dakota said the campus lacked adequate food, provided poor veterinary care and had severe staffing deficiencies.

The Spirit of the Hills Wildlife Sanctuary agreed in October to surrender all exotic animals as part of a settlement with the government in which it also lost its exhibitor’s license, the Black Hills Pioneer reported.

The USDA performed a regular inspection the sanctuary on Sept. 28. Federal animal care inspector Amy Jirsa Smith said she found multiple deficiencies in animal and veterinary care.

A follow-up inspection on Sept. 30 resulted in the discovery of more “serious non-compliance” issues. Smith notes that they found signs “of suffering in these animals.”

The findings led to the euthanasia of four animals on Oct. 1, including a large Barbary lion, a mountain lion and two sheep.

According to USDA reports, all the issues from both inspections were to be corrected by Oct. 3. Sanctuary Director Mike Welchynski agreed to surrender 11 exotic animals on Oct. 3, but he was later mauled by one of the sanctuary’s tigers.

Fred Erdman, the new president of the sanctuary’s board, declined to comment but did indicate he did not agree with information in some of the reports.

Erdman said that the sanctuary’s vet had visited the sanctuary on a weekly basis, if not more often.

Pat Craig, executive director of The Wild Animal Sanctuary, which transported 18 exotic animals from Spearfish to his Colorado sanctuary, said none of the animals he took in were emaciated. All but two, however, were thin.

“From the look of these animals they had probably not been fed adequately for a couple, three months,” Craig said.

Bobbi Brink, director of Lions Tigers & Bears, in Alpine, Calif., is assisting the Spearfish sanctuary staff in reducing its animal numbers to get to a “sustainable number.”

“This is nothing more than good intentions gone bad,” Brink said. “Somebody who tried to do the right thing and got in over their head. They need help.”