GLENWOOD SPRINGS " People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is lauding the Glenwood Springs Mall for canceling an exotic animal display.
The animal rights group, also known as PETA, says the organization that was to have put on the display this week abuses the animals under its care.
Last week, PETA sent the mall a letter asking that it cancel the appearance by GW Exotic Animal Memorial Park, based in Wynnewood, Okla. And on Monday, PETA announced it was giving the mall its "Compassionate Business" Award for agreeing to PETA's request.
"It is a huge step, the fact that the mall has done this. We're really deeply appreciative of this and want to congratulate them for it," said Lisa Wathne, captive exotic animal specialist for PETA.
The exotic animal park said PETA's allegations are off base and the cancellation is unfortunate for Glenwood Springs.
"It's a shame that the people in that area ... they miss out on a good thing, they miss out on a little bit of education," said an employee who would give his name only as Mark, and said he is the manager.
Glenwood Springs Mall manager Sonia Davis did not return calls for comment Monday.
GW Exotic Animal Memorial Park is a nonprofit organization that specializes in taking in rescued animals such as big cats and bears, the park manager said.
It was founded by Joe Schreibvogel in memory of his brother, who was killed by a drunk driver.
The organization goes around the country talking to kids about the dangers of drugs and alcohol and incorporating animals into its presentation.
PETA says the park has been cited repeatedly by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for failing to meeting standards of care required by the Animal Welfare Act. In January 2006, it was put on probation for 18 months and paid a $25,000 fine to settle charges.
PETA also videotaped operations at the park last year in an undercover investigation and says it found problems including a lion that wasn't treated for pain from amputation after part of its leg was torn off by tigers, a horse that suffered for days with an untreated broken leg before dying and being fed to big cats, and tigers that were hit with a rifle butt.
Wathne said other problems involving the park have included animals not being fed for days, a number of baby bears and lions dying on the road, a woman being bitten by an African lion cub at a mall in Texas, and an adult tiger escaping from a show a few years ago in Oklahoma.
"We receive more complaints about GW Exotics than just about any roadside and traveling zoo in the country," Wathne said.
She said the park removes baby animals from their mothers within days or weeks of birth to take them on the road. She also said the park promotes itself as a sanctuary and yet breeds animals, going against a guiding principle that sanctuaries shouldn't add to the problem by bringing more animals into the world.
"There's really a crisis in this country right now with exotic animals, and specifically tigers. For any individual to be producing more tigers is criminal," she said.
Mark, the park manager, said it doesn't breed animals often. Some of the cats it rescues turn out to be pregnant, he said.
He said a veterinarian visits the park almost daily, and the facility and its traveling display have received clean bills of health from the Department of Agriculture over the last year.
If poor nutrition were a problem, "USDA would shut us down tomorrow," he said.
Wathne said PETA is trying to stop malls nationwide from providing a venue for the facility's display. An appearance in Texas was canceled after a city council turned down a request for a permit.
PETA contends exotic-animal displays are a threat to the public and has asked the Glenwood Springs Mall to ban them permanently. Wathne said the mall has not committed to such a ban.
- GW Exotic Animal Memorial Park: http://www.gwpark.org/
- People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals: http://www.peta.net/
- Glenwood Springs Mall: http://gwsmall.com/