BALDWIN TWP, MI — Last year, federal authorities seized an injured brown bear from a roadside zoo in northern Michigan. Months later, the zoo’s owner surrendered another bear and several foxes and closed his facility.
Now, the federal government is seeking to prohibit the man from ever operating a zoo again, claiming he violated the Animal Welfare Act.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Oct. 21 filed a complaint against James M. Svoboda, owner of the now-defunct Sunrise Side Nature Trail and Exotic Park, located at 1220 N. Kobs Road in Iosco County’s Baldwin Township. The department is seeking to permanently revoke Svoboda’s license and prevent him from future exhibition of animals.
The complaint outlines several violations Svoboda engaged in during his years operating the zoo, many of them stating he did not have proper veterinary care for his menagerie. In the summer of 2021, Svoboda failed to properly care for an extremely thin African lion named Damba and an obese bobcat by, in part, leaving feces in their enclosures.
For the year and a half that Svoboda did not have an attending veterinarian, his brown bear Grizzy developed a wound over its left eye that grew to be ulcerated and necrotic, the complaint states. As a result, the government served him a Notice of Intent to Confiscate Grizzy on July 23, 2021. Svoboda refused to sign the notice and authorities seized Grizzy the same day.
What became of Grizzy after he was confiscated by the government has not been made publicly available, despite Freedom of Information Act requests being submitted.
The month following Grizzy’s seizure, Svoboda voluntarily terminated his USDA license and ceased operating his property as a zoo. In September 2021, he relinquished ownership rights to three foxes and a black bear named Dolly, an act facilitated by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or PETA. He also agreed to never again own wild or exotic animals.
Svoboda told MLive in July 2021 he had arranged for Damba, the lion, to be taken in by another zoo. Damba was placed in this other Michigan zoo in December 2021 and was the last exotic animal at Svoboda’s site.
Dolly and the foxes were moved to The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Kennesburg, Colorado. The sanctuary has two locations in Colorado and a third in Texas, comprising more than 11,000 acres between the three sites. Its staff care for more than 650 lions, tigers, bears, and wolves, all of which were rescued from illegal or abusive situations.
Svoboda’s zoo previously garnered headlines in July 2014 when a visiting woman’s finger was bitten by Damba the lion. The USDA issued the park three citations as a result.
Svoboda entered into a settlement agreement, requiring him to pay a $1,950 penalty.
In nine USDA inspection reports from Nov. 6, 2014, to Nov. 25, 2019 — the latter date being the most recent prior to the July 2021, inspection — Svoboda’s zoo received zero direct and seven non-critical violations.
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