A popular local destination for animal lovers is reeling Thursday after receiving a federal reprimand and a fine.
As a result of violations from 2007 through 2011, including providing poor housing for primates, the enclosure of a jaguar in despair and the mauling of a zoo worker as a result of inadequate training, the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve received thousands of dollars in fines.
The Humane Society says the fine is a sign that things are seriously wrong at the Thurmont zoo, and some are even calling for its closure. However, zoo officials say that if anything, the animal preserve is better off today than ever.
The USDA fined Catoctin $12,000 and ordered it to make changes. The zoo's owner says that under the agreement, there was no admission of guilt, but the fine will be paid. In the meantime, officials dismissed calls for the zoo's closure and is putting a positive spin on the penalties.
"Maybe more people will come to the zoo," Richard Hahn, the zoo's executive director, said. "We will have more funds to do what we want to do and what the USDA wants us to do."
Other zoo officials went on the defensive. June Bellizzi, the zoo's assistant director, said that the 2009 attack on the worker was a fluke and said most of the violations were minor.
"She was trained thoroughly; there were over 100 hours of logged training," Bellizzi said.
Zoo officials say that the fine will pose no serious financial problems for them. The money needed to pay them will be redirected from funds used for improvements to the facility.