Lions and tigers and bears aren’t just in the land of Oz. You can find each of these exotic animals and more in the Show-Me state. But unlike Oz where these animals roam free, some exotic animals in Missouri live in captivity under inhumane conditions.
There are dozens of road-side zoos, false sanctuaries and exotic animal shows in Missouri. Because there is no federal inventory of exotic animals, it is close to impossible to know exactly how many species Missouri has and the population of each one, says Lisa Wathne, senior strategist of captive wildlife at the Humane Society of the United States based in Washington, D.C.
The United States Department of Agriculture issues licenses to facilities with exotic animals that meet the requirements laid out under the Animal Welfare Act. This ensures these facilities meet a minimum standard of care and treatment. The USDA database for all license holders is freely available on its website and was last updated Nov. 30, 2020.
According to the Department of Agriculture, Missouri has seven bears at three locations, 92 big cats at 10 locations and 400 primates at 23 locations. However, many facilities with exotic animals lack up-to-date licensing or documentation. In addition, USDA licenses are not required for general exotic animal ownership or for exhibiting exotic reptiles, birds and most equine species, Wathne says. Therefore, the number of unlicensed exotic animals in Missouri is unknown.
Reports of injuries caused by exotic animals are one of the clearest ways to understand what animals live in the state, whether they are properly licensed or not. However, even this method is flawed because owners can lie about how they obtained their injuries. "Experts generally agree that most incidents go unreported," Wathne says.
According to a Missouri Exotics Briefing held by 911 Animal Abuse, Missouri ranks first in the country for the number of minors injured by captive bears and the number of minors injured by primates since 1990. During this same time frame, Missouri ranks third in the country for the number of people injured by exotic animals overall. 911 Animal Abuse is an organization that sheds light on facilities that allegedly mistreat animals, specifically big cat species.
Columbia is not immune to exotic animal attacks. According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, on Sept. 22, 2007, a pet macaque, a type of primate, attacked a 7-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl at a local park. Less than a year later on July 4, 2008, a woman was bitten by her friend’s Japanese snow macaque. Both incidents were investigated by the Boone County Health Department.
There have been other incidents of exotic animal incidents in mid-Missouri, including a dead boa constrictor on Sept. 8, 2015 in Waynesville, two escaped boa constrictors on Aug. 11, 2013 in Bourbon, an escaped cougar on Dec. 3, 2000 in Morgan County, an escaped African lion on March 23, 2001 in Morgan County, a rhesus macaque attack on July 18, 2000 in Jefferson City and a black bear attack on March 28, 1998 in Reform, according to the Humane Society’s Primate Attacks Factsheet.
Mid-Missouri is also home to the largest exotic animal auction in the country: Lolli Bros. Livestock Market in Macon. According to its website, Lolli Bros. sells a variety of exotic animals ranging from apes to zebras as well as exotic animal gear, including hosting four yearly exotic animal shows. The auction has a USDA dealer’s license that is valid until April 2, 2021.
Most exotic animal facilities fall under one of three categories — breeders, carriers or exhibitors — depending on the purpose of the facility. Although facilities with USDA licenses must abide by the Animal Welfare Act, Wathne says these licenses are "extremely weak and poorly enforced" and in some instances, facilities have ongoing citations against them yet still qualify for USDA licensing.
Wathne says it’s important to research any exotic animal facilities you visit before you go. Otherwise, you risk giving your money and support to a facility that does not care for its animals. Not sure how to do this? Vox has compiled a list of exotic animal facilities and their records below. Vox emailed and called each location. Some did not respond or refused to comment.
*Note: All Missouri zoos, including the St. Louis Zoo, Kansas City Zoo and Dickerson Park Zoo, as well as the Crowne Ridge Tiger Sanctuary are all USDA-approved facilities and follow exotic animal welfare laws. True exotic animal sanctuaries belong to the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries. For more information on facilities with big cats specifically, Vox has a list of certified and uncertified locations.
Lolli Bros. Livestock Market Inc. in Macon, MO
Lolli Bros. hosts the largest exotic animal auction in the country, featured as four separate annual events. The market also sells equipment to take care of exotic animals. Lolli Bros. has a valid USDA dealer’s license until April 2, 2021 under Lolli Bros. Livestock Market Inc, according to the USDA database, and is currently open during COVID-19. Wathne says Lolli Bros. has six USDA citations including unsafe and/or filthy enclosures for Bengal cats, primates, hedgehogs and rabbits.
Big Joel’s Safari in Wright City, MO
Only an hour from Columbia, Big Joel’s Safari Petting Zoo and Educational Park is a common location for class trips and local outings. The facility has a variety of animals on display, including four types of primates, two types of felines and other mammals. Big Joel’s Safari has a USDA exhibitor’s license that expires on Aug. 12, 2021, says Stone Staszcuk, safari team member. Licensing expires July 12, 2021, according to the USDA database. The facility is currently open with normal hours.
Midwest Monkeys and Exotics in Lebanon, MO
Midwest Monkeys and Exotics isn’t for visiting exotic animals, according to its website. Instead, the facility’s primary purpose is selling exotic animals, including baby marmoset monkeys, sugar gliders and leopard geckos. The facility’s USDA dealer’s license expired on Oct. 8, 2020 under owner Tracie Perry, according to the USDA database.
Primarily Primates in Festus, MO
Primarily Primates has had its fair share of media attention. Formerly called the Missouri Primate Foundation, the facility was home to the largest chimpanzee breeder in the country. However in 2018, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals sued Primarily Primates for keeping its animals in “filthy, mostly barren enclosures,” forcing owner Connie Braun Casey to give up her chimpanzees and other primates, according to the Associated Press. The facility’s USDA dealer’s license expired on June 6, 2020 and its carrier’s license expires on Aug. 14, 2021, according to the USDA database.
Animals R Us in Hillsboro, MO
This mobile petting zoo includes your average birthday party pony rides as well as opportunities to see more exotic animals. According to Animals R Us’ website, the facility has a USDA license, is inspected regularly and keeps its animals in clean enclosures. According to the USDA database, Animals R Us’ exhibitor’s license expires July 7, 2021.
Monkey Island Rescue and Sanctuary in Greenwood, MO
Monkey Island Rescue and Sanctuary rescues, rehabilitates, feeds and houses primates and other exotic animals, including animals that have been at the facility for more than 25 years, says owner Dana Savorelli. According to the website, the facility is a USDA-licensed sanctuary; however, the facility does not have a listed license in the USDA 2020 database nor is it a member of the North American Primate Sanctuary Alliance. Savorelli says the facility does not breed nor sell animals and therefore, licensing is unnecessary. The owner was unable to comment on specific licensing and inspection questions, saying he prefers to keep this information private.
Steal Your Heart Exotics in Joplin, MO
From domestic felines to exotic animals like the arctic fox, kinkajous and small spotted genets, Steal Your Heart Exotics offers a variety of species to purchase, says owner Tonya Carrillo. The website says it has a USDA license and conducts yearly inspections; however, Steal Your Heart Exotics’s dealer’s license expired on Dec. 7, 2020 under Carrillo, according to the USDA database.
Hostetler Wildlife Farms in Miller, MO
Hostetler Wildlife Farms is another facility that has earned previous media attention. In 2017, the FDA sued the facility for conducting interstate sales of raw camel milk. Since then, the facility says all raw camel milk sales have stopped. Hostetler Wildlife Farms had a USDA dealer’s license under owner Sam Hostelter, but the license expired on May 1, 2020, according to the USDA database. Hostetler Wildlife Farms has no listed contact information for further questions.
A-Z Exotic Animal Adventures in Peculiar, MO
A-Z Exotic Animal Adventures lives up to its name, offering animal exhibits or interactions with camels, spider monkeys, kangaroos, zebras and more, according to its website. Along with exhibiting its animals, the facility sells some of its species when they are babies, says owner Jerry Aswegan. The organization’s USDA dealer’s license expires Aug. 5, 2021, according to the database.
Liar’s Lake Exotics in Sparta, MO
If you’re looking for bison, pot belly pigs or zebus, look no further than Liar’s Lake Exotics. This facility primarily engages in exotic animal sales, according to its website, and its website is home to advertisements featuring available animals. The facility has a valid USDA dealer’s license until April 10, 2021 under owner Cynthia Darling, according to the USDA database.
Branson’s Wild World in Branson, MO
Branson is home to a variety of exotic animal facilities, including Branson’s Wild World. Here, you can visit mountain lions, British Columbian wolves and other exotic mammals, according to its website. During COVID-19, the facility is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. except Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Branson’s Wild World has a valid USDA exhibitor’s license until May 25, 2021, according to the agency's database.
Promised Land Zoo in Branson, MO
Another Branson classic, Promised Land Zoo is home to numerous exotic animal species. According to its website, the facility is now a Feline Conservation Federation accredited facility and offers personalized zoo experiences. Promised Land Zoo’s USDA exhibitor’s license expires June 14, 2021, according to the agency's database. Both Promised Land Zoo and Eureka Springs Safari Park — its second location — are open during COVID-19.
Wild Animal Safari Inc. in Strafford, MO
When you first visit Wild Animal Safari’s website, an announcement for a new year-round giraffe barn will flash across your screen. Giraffes are not the only exotic animals exhibited at Wild Animal Safari; the facility is also home to big cats, zebras and other exotic species, according to its website. According to the USDA's database, Wild Animal Safari has a valid exhibitor’s license until April 18, 2021.
R & P Camel Company in Urbana, MO
Want to bring the desert experience to Missouri? R & P Camel Company provides camels for live nativity scenes and sells camel milk. The facility’s USDA exhibitor’s license expires July 28, 2021, according to the USDA database.