zoo owner

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Steve Huffman
Salisbury Post
The former owner of the Metrolina Wildlife Park has been fined and his license to operate a zoo suspended for eight years.
The punishment against Steve Macaluso was finalized Friday through a Consent Decision and Order by officials with the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C.
Macaluso was found guilty of failing to provide adequate veterinary care and shelter for animals, failing to provide psychological enrichment for primates and failing to use safe animal-handling practices, all violations of the Animal Welfare Act.
Attempts to reach Macaluso were unsuccessful Tuesday night. According to a copy of the USDA’s Consent Decision and Order, Macaluso’s Animal Welfare Act license has been suspended until Dec. 31, 2015. He has also been fined $5,000.
The suspension and fine will apparently not, however, affect the sale of the former Metrolina Wildlife Park to a South Carolina woman.
Lea Jaunakais announced earlier this month that she had purchased the zoo from Macaluso and would be opening the 30-acre facility as Tiger World this summer.
Phone calls to Jaunakais weren’t returned Tuesday night, but a spokeswoman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, an organization that has closely monitored the case, said the punishment against Macaluso won’t impact Jaunakais’ plans.
“She has a USDA license all her own,” said Lisa Wathne, the PETA spokeswoman. “My understanding is that this should not affect her in any way.”
According to Wathne, since 2003, PETA has filed 11 complaints with the USDA about Metrolina, which formerly operated as Charlotte Metro Zoo.
“Metrolina Wildlife Park has been a nightmare for the animals who have suffered at Steve Macaluso’s hands,” said PETA Director Debbie Leahy. “The fine and license suspension are an important first step, but we want this hellhole shut down for good.”
Earlier this month, Jaunakais stressed that Tiger World will be operated far differently than Metrolina was operated.
Someone will always be living on the site, she said, and surveillance cameras will be installed throughout the exhibits. All tours through Tiger World will be guided.
Jaunakais said she is trained and certified in chemical immobilization and feline husbandry, having worked with big cats at zoos and other facilities since 1994.
Tiger World, Jaunakais said, will be dedicated to the rescue, rehabilitation, education and preservation of exotic animals. She said she plans to invest $1.5 million in the facility’s renovation.
Macaluso closed Metrolina this past Dec. 31.
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Staff writer Mark Wineka contributed to this story.
Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or shuffman@salisburypost.com.