If you’re planning a road trip with your family or friends, don’t be swayed by places that tack the word “sanctuary” or “rescue” on to their name—it’s a deceptive tactic that many roadside zoos and other cruel tourist traps use to dupe unwitting travelers. Ignore the billboards, and don’t spend any of your money or vacation time at places where the animals have to suffer long after you’re back home.

PLACES TO AVOID

Alligator Adventure and T.I.G.E.R.S. Preservation Station

North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

alligator adventure

22 foot 2000 pound crocodile | allison | CC BY 2.0  

Barefoot Landing allows notorious exhibitor Kevin Antle—who forces tiger cubs and chimpanzees to interact with tourists for cruel moneymaking photo ops—to set up shop. Antle’s operation, T.I.G.E.R.S., has been repeatedly cited and has even been fined by federal authorities for serious violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), including failure to provide animals with adequate veterinary care, sufficient cage space, protection from the elements, and clean water.

Reptiles aren’t regulated under the AWA, so the hundreds of alligators, crocodiles, snakes, and other reptiles at Alligator Adventure are afforded no protection.

Waccatee Zoo

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina

waccatee zoo

Even though keeping a chimpanzee alone is akin to keeping a human in solitary confinement, this roadside zoo kept a chimpanzee named Chico is isolation for more than 25 years. It has also kept many other primates alone. We begged the zoo to relinquish Chico, the lone chimpanzee there, to a sanctuary so that he could live in comfort with other chimpanzees. But the owners refused to do the right thing for this intelligent, social animal, and in November 2015, Chico, who was only 31 years old, died suddenly from congenital heart disease. The facility reportedly had no idea that he had a heart condition. The facility has been repeatedly cited for failing to provide animals with veterinary care and having filthy water receptacles and enclosures.

An inspector recently noted that bears, baboons, and a cougar at the roadside zoo are displaying abnormal behavior; one of the sheep’s claws was so badly overgrown that it appeared to be “growing sideways”; two thin squirrel monkeys had severe hair loss and redness over their rear legs and most of their tails but had not received veterinary treatment; and a lion appeared to have difficulty moving (swaying and swinging) his rear legs, which “can be a sign of nutritional deficiencies, parasitic diseases, or other illnesses.”

Three Bears General Store

Pigeon Forge, Tennessee

Three Bears General Store

Three Bears General Store 

Three Bears General Store is notorious for violating federal animal-protection laws. Visitors to this Tennessee tourist trap have been seen pelting bears with broken dog biscuits and chunks of fruit. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has repeatedly cited Three Bears for failing to allow the animals to enter their dens during the day in order to escape public view or take shelter from inclement weather. The bears apparently have only one water source. Employees have reported that if the bears are slow to come out of their night pens, they’re locked inside for the rest of the day.

In nearby Gatlinburg, there are yet more bear pits. Gatlinburg Wildlife Encounters keeps bears—often referred to as the “Ober bears”—in similarly appalling conditions.

Clark’s Trading Post

Lincoln, New Hampshire

Clark’s Trading Post confines North American black bears to grossly undersized and barren concrete pits and forces them to ride scooters, be pushed on a swing, and eat ice cream from a spoon.

Suncoast Primate Sanctuary

Palm Harbor, Florida

suncoast primate sanctuary

PETA has campaigned against this decrepit hellhole for many years—dating back to when it was called Noell’s Ark Chimp Farm. This facility is by no means a “sanctuary— rather, it’s a roadside menagerie with a long history of AWA violations. Even though license revocations are extremely rare, the USDA yanked Noell’s Ark Chimp Farm’s exhibitor’s license in 1999—yet the same roadside zoo, operated by the granddaughter of the original owners, opened a few years later under a misleadingly grandiose name. The facility has been repeatedly cited for keeping primates in rusty, dilapidated cages with jagged edges.

Cherokee Bear Zoo and Santa’s Land

Cherokee, North Carolina

cherokee bear parkCherokee Bear Zoo and Santa’s Land—two roadside zoos located on tribal land in western North Carolina—keep bears and other animals in grossly inhumane conditions. As if they were stuck in the 1950s, these facilities display often neurotic bears in desolate concrete pits or cramped cages.

Tregembo Animal Park

Wilmington, North Carolina

Tregembo Animal Park

Roadside Zoo | Donald Lee Pardue | CC BY 2.0 

In 1998, PETA named this roadside zoo (then known as the Tote-‘Em-In-Zoo) as one of the worst in the country. Other than the name, not much has changed since then. Visitors have documented that there are horrible living conditions for animals—including algae-filled water receptacles and tiny, filthy cages—and have even found bodies of dead and decaying animals on the property.

An eyewitness documented that animals are kept inside cramped cages and are in apparent need of veterinary attention. Video footage shows a limping guenon monkey, a fox and a donkey with hair loss, and a bobcat who appears to have difficulty navigating up a structure. Many animals at this facility exhibit neurotic repetitive behavior patterns.

In 2017, after two North Carolina residents filed a lawsuit against Tregembo alleging that the roadside zoo’s treatment of the bears Ben and Booger violates the state’s anti-cruelty statute, both bears were moved to a reputable animal sanctuary.

The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park

Wynnewood, Oklahoma

The Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park  (aka “G.W. Exotics”, The Garold Wayne Interactive Zoological Park and “G.W. Zoo”) is a sleazy menagerie that buys, sells, trades, and breeds animals. This roadside zoo churns out tiger cubs for use in photo sessions, even though it was investigated for the deaths of 23 tiger cubs who died within a seven-month period. In 2006, then-owner Joe Maldonado (aka “Joe Schreibvogel” and “Joe Exotic”) was put on probation for 18 months and ordered to pay a $25,000 fine for nearly 200 AWA violations.

Marineland

Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada

Marineland displays one lone orca, beluga whales, dolphins, sea lions, and walruses in cramped tanks. It’s estimated that more than 40 whales and dolphins have died at the theme park. Marineland has imported beluga whales and dolphins who were stolen from their ocean homes. Visitors are allowed to feed and touch the belugas throughout the day. The park also keeps bears, deer, bison, and elk confined to cages that are surrounded by noisy roller coasters and other rides.

An investigation conducted by the Toronto Star detailed widespread reports of negligence, cruelty, and mass animal graves.

Pymatuning Deer Park

Jamestown, Pennsylvania

GIF

This notorious roadside zoo was hit with an official warning for more than a dozen AWA violations—including confining visibly ailing bears to concrete pits, with no opportunities to swim, climb, dig, den, or engage in other natural types of behavior. Other violations included Pymatuning’s repeated failure to clean up animals’ waste, failure to maintain a current veterinary program, and failure to have a sufficient number of adequately trained employees—among many other issues.

Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo

Kingwood, West Virginia

Hovatter’s allowed an alpaca’s teeth to become so overgrown that the animal’s ability to eat was impaired, and it failed to provide young lion cubs with adequate nutrition. The feds cited the roadside zoo for failing to provide chimpanzees with adequate enrichment after PETA filed a complaint, including evidence that the chimpanzees had hair loss—possibly as a result of over-grooming caused by a lack of stimulation—and that one chimpanzee repeatedly sucked on his hand for over 30 minutes.

Tri-State Zoological Park

Cumberland, Maryland

tri state zoological park

The Tri-State Zoological Park keeps animals in deplorable conditions—tigers are confined to cages containing disgusting, murky pools, and a solitary capuchin has pulled his own hair out, apparently from sheer frustration, among other issues. Tri-State has also repeatedly failed to provide animals with adequate veterinary care, maintain clean and safe enclosures, provide primates who are held alone with sufficient environmental enrichment, and provide animals with adequate shelter from the wind and cold temperatures.

PETA filed a federal Endangered Species Act citizen lawsuit against Tri-State Zoological Park alleging that the roadside zoo harms and harasses two lemurs, five tigers, and a lion in violation of federal law by displaying them in decrepit enclosures without appropriate companionship or proper enrichment, food, potable water, and shelter, among other failures to meet minimal animal-care standards.

Natural Bridge Zoo

Natural Bridge, Virginia

The Natural Bridge Zoo keeps a lone elephant named Asha, who has spent years without the company of another elephant. During the winter, she’s locked in a cold, damp barn, and in the summer heat, she’s forced to walk in endless circles giving rides.

The roadside zoo has been cited for failing to provide animals with veterinary care, failing to store food adequately to keep it free from contamination, failing to provide clean drinking water, failing to maintain enclosures, failing to provide animals with dry enclosures or bedding, failing to clean enclosures, and failing to provide animals with food and water. The facility’s owner, Karl Mogensen, has been fined more than $20,000 in civil penalties by the USDA and had his exhibitor license suspended on two separate occasions. The zoo regularly advertises animals in the Animal Finders’ Guide, a swap sheet for exotic-animal auctioneers, trophy-hunting facilities, breeders, and dealers.

West Edmonton Mall

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Keeping animals in a mall is indefensible, yet the West Edmonton Mall has an underground aquarium housing fish, sharks, sea turtles, penguins, reptiles, amphibians, and invertebrates. The mall also forces sea lions to perform daily shows and allows paying customers to “hug and kiss” them. The mall previously housed four wild-caught dolphins in a tank. Five calves born to them were either stillborn or died shortly after birth, and all four adult dolphins eventually died.

Edmonton Valley Zoo

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

Even though elephants are extremely social animals and need the company of other elephants for their emotional well-being, Lucy has been kept alone for years at the Edmonton Valley Zoo. Because of Alberta’s frigid winters—which are unsuitable for an Asian elephant—Lucy spends nearly half of the year in a small barn and exhibits behavior patterns that indicate severe psychological distress.

PLACES TO VISIT

Don’t worry! There ARE places you can visit that don’t hurt animals. Check out one of these spots instead.

The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries

Various Locations 

kim pig farm sanctuary The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) is an organization that has rigorous standards of sanctuary management and lifelong animal care. GFAS-accredited sanctuaries never breed animals or use them in commercial activities. Some of the member sanctuaries provide educational tours, but not all of them do, so if you’re interested in visiting one with tours, make sure you check before you go.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park

Key Largo, Florida

The John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park
Hawksbill Turtle swimming underwater in Florida Keys | Matt kleffer | CC BY-SA 2.0 
You can swim with animals—in their home, on their terms—at the John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. Established in 1963, it was the first undersea park created in the United States. The park, combined with the adjacent Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, encompasses 178 nautical square miles of coral reefs, seagrass beds, and mangrove swamps. These areas were established to protect and preserve the only living coral reef in the continental United States.

The Turtle Hospital

Marathon, Florida (Upper Keys)

the turtle hospital
Ambulance Pulls Out of the Hospital | Florida Fish and Wildlife | CC BY-ND 2.0 
  Another great stop in the Keys is The Turtle Hospital, which rescues and rehabilitates turtles in trouble and releases all of them it responsibly can. Guests are invited to take a guided educational tour of the hospital facilities and the sea turtle rehabilitation area. At the end of each tour, guests are invited to feed the permanent residents.

Nashville Shores’ Treetop Adventure Park

Hermitage, Tennessee

The Treetop Adventure Park is a thrilling obstacle course with suspended bridges, scramble nets, swinging logs, Tarzan jumps, and more, all set in the woods. It also has a water park, camping facilities, and a dog park. No animals harmed!

The Adventuredome

Las Vegas, Nevada

The-Adventuredome
Canyon Blaster in the Adventuredome | Meredith P. | CC BY-ND 2.0 
The Adventuredome is America’s largest indoor theme park. It features thrill rides, traditional carnival rides, laser tag, miniature golf, bumper cars, midway booths, an arcade, clown shows, and more—all located under a huge glass dome.

Magic Springs & Crystal Falls Water and Theme Park

Hot Springs, Arkansas

Magic Springs & Crystal Falls Water and Theme Park has top concert acts and tons of rides in addition to its massive water park.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Never go to any place that uses animals for entertainment. Every dollar spent at an awful tourist trap contributes to the animals’ miserable lives. If you ever see an animal who is sick or injured or who has inadequate food, water, or shelter, take photos if you can, and notify animal control or the police immediately. If neither responds quickly, call PETA—anytime, day or night—at 757-622-7382, option 2. facebook share button twitter share button