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Safari manager to fight allegations in USDA complaint

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Photographs by Jason Ivester

Erica Parker of Locust Grove, Okla., (center) holds a 7-week-old bear cub at the Wild Wilderness Drive Through Safari in Gentry, which was found to have violated U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations from 2012-16.

Leon Wilmoth acknowledges the dead lion was his fault.

Kaitlyn McNac, 9, of Cleveland, Okla., visits with giraffes Scarlet (top) and Sophia on Wednesday at the Wild Wilderness Drive Through Safari in Gentr...

Leon Wilmoth, manager, hands over Banana, a red-tailed albino boa, to Landon Ray, 15, of Skiatook, Okla., at the Wild Wilderness Drive Through Safari ...

Visitors enter the drive through safari Wednesday at the Wild Wilderness Drive Through Safari in Gentry.

Wild ride

Wild Wilderness Drive-Through Safari has been the focus of several legal matters and complaints over the years.

1998: Wild Wilderness pays an $8,000 fine to settle U.S. Department of Agriculture accusations of violations ranging from poor record-keeping to unsanitary conditions and improper pens, all of which occurred in 1993 and 1994.

2002: Freddy Wilmoth, who at the time was the safari’s manager, pleads guilty in federal court to a misdemeanor charge of violating the Endangered Species Act. He is sentenced to six months of home confinement and three years of probation and is ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution. Wilmoth had been charged for selling four endangered tigers that were later killed for their hides. He is no longer associated with the safari.

2002: The safari agrees to pay a $10,000 fine to settle multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act from USDA inspections in 1999 and 2000. The settlement includes a requirement half of that money be spent on training of personnel and to improve facilities.

2005: A Benton County woman sues the safari, claiming a monkey bit off much of her hand, including two fingers, as she was preparing to feed it during a visit to the park in 2004. The case was settled and the result is confidential, according to Chadd Mason, a Fayetteville attorney who represented the woman.

2008: The safari pays $3,094 to resolve alleged violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

2012: The U.S. Department of Agriculture issues a letter of warning to the safari.

2015: A Benton County jury awards $916,745 to the safari in compensation for 9 acres of the park taken by Southwest Electric Power for the placement of high-voltage lines. The utility company originally offered $36,600 for the land.

2017: The U.S. Department of Agriculture files a lengthy complaint outlining numerous violations by the safari, including reports of inadequate veterinary care and failure to keep appropriate barriers between humans and dangerous animals.

Source: Staff report

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