Court orders notorious roadside zoo permanently closed in Wisconsin

The Tripadvisor reviews of Special Memories Zoo describe a place few would ever want to visit. Visitors allege neglect, abuse and a heartbreaking display of sad, captive exotic animals.

And now a judge in Wisconsin has made sure nobody can ever visit that place again.

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin has permanently banned Special Memories Zoo, its owner, and manager from ever possessing, exhibiting or working with animals.

District Judge William C. Griesbach ruled this month the facility amounted to a public nuisance and that animals listed under the Endangered Species Act were essentially kept in inhumane and unsafe conditions.

Now, the operators, owner Dona Wheeler, and manager, Gretchen Crowe, can only have dogs as personal pets.

The ruling comes after a long-running campaign spearheaded by the Animal Legal Defense Fund to see the Greenville roadside zoo shuttered. A social media campaign to shut down the zoo also had support on Facebook.

Image posted on the Shut Down Roadside Zoo in Greenville, WI Facebook group.

It was the ALDF that successfully claimed in court endangered animals such as tigers and lemurs were kept in “squalid conditions.”

 “We are pleased to see an end to the suffering that took place at Special Memories Zoo under the supervision of the zoo owner and manager,” Animal Legal Defense Fund Executive Director Stephen Wells said in a statement. “The Endangered Species Act and state animal protection laws are among the critical legal tools that help us hold roadside zoos accountable when animals are neglected or abused. We will continue to ensure these laws are enforced  to protect the animals.” 

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has investigated the zoo repeatedly over the years citing it for filthy enclosures, lack of water and contaminated food as well as highlighting staffing concerns.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed its lawsuit to permanently close the facility.

Today, we sent notice to Special Memories Zoo declaring our intent to sue the facility for keeping the tigers and other…

Posted by Animal Legal Defense Fund on Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Not long after suit was filed, in March 2020, a fire broke out in a barn at Special Memories Zoo killing dozens of animals, including a black buck, pigs, goats, chickens, nilgai, alpaca, camel and zebu.  

While the case is a victory, Special Memories Zoo, which had a second location in Hortonville, WI, never really put up a fight to stay open, according to the court ruling.

Wheeler’s husband, Gene Wheeler, died last June.

“Dona Wheeler, his widow, and Ms. Crowe, have expressed no interest in
continuing the zoo and ownership of all of the remaining animals has been transferred to others,” Judge Griebach wrote.

They once had more than 200 animals.

The ALDF continues its mission to see more roadside zoos closed.

Main photo: ALDF

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Recovering newspaper reporter.

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