Private zoo in southwest Broward (Susan Stocker, Sun Sentinel / June 1,
By David Fleshler, Sun Sentinel
Federal wildlife inspectors have gone to court to force their way onto the grounds of a private zoo in Southwest Ranches that's protected by fences, walls of trees and multiple signs reading No Trespassing and Beware of Dog.
U.S. Department of Agriculture has filed a complaint against Dr. Richard
L. Miller, a veterinarian and wildlife dealer who presides over a collection
of more than 250 capuchins, anteaters, squirrel
monkeys, two-toed sloths and other exotic wildlife. The agency says he
keeps animals in unsanitary, unsafe conditions and repeatedly prevented
inspectors from going onto his property to look for violations of the Animal
USDA spokesman David Sacks said Miller faces a maximum fine of $10,000 per violation. The complaint contained at least seven violations.
Miller, who could not be reached for comment despite notes left at his
property, is a well-known dealer in exotic wildlife. In the 2006 book
"Animal Underworld: Inside America's Black Market for Rare and Exotic
Species," which does not accuse him of wrongdoing, Miller is described as an
active buyer and seller who has acquired animals from the Bronx and
Cincinnati zoos, including extremely rare red pandas.
Thick stands of trees shield the grounds. Through gaps were visible stacks of cages, one-story buildings and a large cage containing a monkey that darted around on tree limbs.
Miller has a long record of violating laws protecting captive animals. USDA inspection reports dating back 12 years say some primates were kept in cages that were too small, including one case in which a spider monkey's cage was too small for it to sit upright. Primates also lacked the legally required toys or other environmental enrichments for their psychological well being. Many cages had mounds of excrement. A walk-in refrigerator was half filled with dead animals, stored next to the animals' food.
The USDA fined Miller $15,000 in 2007 and suspended his license for 30 days but allowed him to remain in business.
Lisa Wathne, captive wildlife specialist for the Humane Society of the United States, said owners of exotic animals frequently keep their licenses for years despite highly critical USDA inspection reports.
"We often see licensees with ongoing citations from the USDA, and the USDA will just go back time and again and citing them for the same thing before they finally file a complaint," she said. "In the meantime, the people continue to operate the business as usual, which often means a lot of suffering for the animals."
Sacks said the USDA moves as quickly as it can to protect animals but needs to go through the proper legal steps to ensure due process and successful enforcement actions.
"The USDA enforces the Animal Welfare Act to the fullest," he said. "These legal matters have to run through due process. I realize a lot of individuals and organizations wish we could move quicker. But the system is not an overnight system."
The most recent complaint states that Miller thwarted five attempts to inspect his property since 2009. It also says a partial inspection conducted in 2009 — and stopped after Miller said he wasn't feeling well and could not continue — found animals living in unsanitary and unsafe conditions. In inspection reports, the agency says Miller prevented one inspection by saying he was disabled and could not secure his guard dog so inspectors could go onto his property.
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