Roswell zoo hit with federal fine for animal treatment, escapes

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ROSWELL, N.M. — At just 34 acres, the Spring River Zoo in Roswell is one of the smallest zoos in the country, but it’s faced more violations than some of the biggest.

In February, the USDA delivered the zoo a $4,500 fine – its strongest penalty for roadside zoos. (The term roadside zoo is generally used to describe zoos that are not accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.)

The official citation only lists six violations of the Animal Welfare Act, but animal advocates with PETA believe that’s only scratching the surface.

“Even though it might seem like a slap on the wrist, they’re finally holding Spring River Zoo accountable for being a literal death trap to animals,” said Alex Baldwin, Captive Wildlife Advocacy specialist with PETA.

The USDA’s citation targets some of the zoo’s most notable incidents, including when a black bear escaped its enclosure, a beaver escaped the zoo, and a pack of dogs dug under a fence – killing three sheep and a wallaby.

The citation also highlights evidence of inadequate care, such as a Longhorn steer with overgrown hooves noted in multiple inspection reports.

“When we see these chronic violators of the federal Animal Welfare Act like Spring River Zoo, it’s important to hold them accountable because the animals there, they depend on whoever’s giving them their care,” Baldwin said.

PETA officials said they have tried helping zoo leaders address animal care issues for years, specifically with the mostly-concrete bear enclosure.

“There are almost 2,000 licensed exhibitors in the United States, and I can only think of three that are still seemingly from the Dark Ages that keep bears in bear pits,” Baldwin said.

Some people in Roswell share those concerns.

“The cages and the enclosures that they have for some of the animals are not very good,” said Chris Neal, a Roswell resident. “They’re very antiquated, like from the ’70s probably.”

PETA officials said all of their attempts to help have been ignored, and so was a letter demanding the city close the zoo for good.

A city spokesperson confirmed that city councilors agreed to pay the USDA fine back in April, and it appears that change is coming to the zoo.

In a statement, a spokesperson said the city has reorganized zoo management and is focused on improving and maintaining the grounds and facilities to benefit the animals, employees and visitors.

Additionally, a USDA inspection back in March found no violations at the zoo – potentially a sign of better days to come.