Embattled animal ranch is still open
BY JEFF BILLINGTON World Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
2/26/08 at 3:30 PM
Documents: View a PDF of the consent decision and order outlining various complaints against Safari Joe's Exotic Wildlife Rescue.
View a PDF of the Aministrative Law Judge's decision on Safari Joe's Exotic Wildlife Rescue.
Previous stories: Loss of animals felt by owner
Refuge fire kills scores of animals
The site where many animals died
in a recent fire has no USDA license.
ADAIR -- An animal sanctuary
where nearly 100 animals died in a
fire last month remains open despite
not being licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, records
A consent order filed Aug. 14,
2006, states that Safari Joe's Wildlife
Ranch, also known as Safari Joe's
Exotic Wildlife Rescue, owned by
Joe Estes, has a history of violations,
according to the USDA.
An administrative law judge ruled
that Estes had committed at least 39
violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act.
In January, fire swept
through a barn at Estes' exotic
animal refuge in Mayes County, killing almost 100 animals.
Safari Joe's, located on 200
acres about three miles north
of Adair on U.S. 69, is what Estes calls a sanctuary for unwanted, abused and neglected
exotic animals, including
lions, tigers, and alligators.
Because of the ruling by the
USDA, Estes was assessed a
$10,000 fine that he was required to pay in full in 2003,
USDA spokeswoman Jessica
Estes' license with the
USDA was revoked because
he failed to pay the $10,000
penalty on time, she said.
"Since he missed the date
that the penalty was to be paid
in full, which was Nov. 30,
2003, his license was permanently revoked," Milteer said.
Estes said he paid the penalty in several installments. Milteer confirmed that Estes had
paid the penalty, making the
last installment in 2006, when
the consent order was filed.
"I paid in full a year and a
half ago," Estes said. "I only
need a state license, which I
have, and I would need a federal license if I was only open
to the public, which I'm not.
We're a sanctuary, and we
take in injured animals.
"You don't have to have a license to have a sanctuary, and
that's what we are. You only
need one if you're going to
show them, or if you're open,
and we're not in either case."
Estes said he is currently licensed through the Oklahoma
Department of Wildlife for native animals. He said the state
regulates all mammals except
A spokeswoman for the
Oklahoma Department of
Wildlife Conservation, Sharon
Lookabaugh, confirmed that
Estes has a state commercial
wildlife breeder's license. Under the license, Estes is able to
breed bears and raccoons on
his property, she said.
Animals that are not regulated that he has exhibited off-site include birds, reptiles and
Estes said he did not have a
choice but to pay the USDA
"It's easier to pay the fine
and admit to something you
didn't even do than pay an attorney thousands and thousands of dollars trying to fight
it," he said. "No one wins, no
He said the USDA's inspection policy is inconsistent.
"Each inspector inspects differently. One might think a
cage is fine, while another
might not think so. I like strict
investigators, because I feel
like they teach me. But there's
no consistency whatsoever,"
Milteer said USDA investigators continue to monitor Estes and the facility.
"If there is a complaint, we'll
investigate," but the investigation is basically complete, she
Documents show that Estes
held a federal Animal Welfare
Act license until Sept. 4, 2000,
when it was canceled. It was
then permanently revoked on
Dec. 1, 2003, by order of the
U.S. secretary of agriculture.
Specific violations alleged
by the USDA include failing to
provide veterinary care to two
lions with ringworm and failing to ensure that housing for
tigers was structurally sound
and in good repair.
In 2003, a Tulsa woman who
was a volunteer at the park
died after a tiger grabbed her
leg and pulled her close to its
cage before pulling her arm into the cage and severing it.
The tiger, which was later
euthanized, belonged to a
wildlife center in Texas, which
leased one of the buildings at
the facility. In previous news
reports, Estes said the woman
was helping another handler.
According to the federal
consent order, Safari Joe's has
continued to defy the USDA
order by exhibiting animals;
operating a roadside zoo; holding fund-raising events in
which animals were displayed
and made available for viewing off site; negotiating the
purchase or sale of animals for
exhibition; and entering into a
joint venture to breed tigers
for exhibition or for use as
pets, all without a license.
Estes said that because of
federal regulations, he doesn't
allow the public to view his animals on site, either.
Estes said the only animals
he has exhibited off-site are
animals licensed through the
state and those that aren't ex
otic and aren't regulated
through the state.
Since the fire, Estes and several volunteers razed the barn
where the fire originated,
clearing the area for construction of a new animal area once
he receives funding.
"We're going to draw plans
up and rebuild slowly and get
it back to the way it should
be," he said.
Estes said he has not applied for a new federal license.
Since he also doesn't offer
tours at the ranch, he doesn't
need one, he said.
"There's no need to apply if
I'm not open," he said. "My
goal in time is to be open to
the public, and if that happens,
then I will be licensed by the
"I'm just providing a service.
I just want to work to a goal
and do something good for
people. I'm not perfect, and I
work with what little I have."
Jeff Billington 581-8369
According to a federal judge, Joe Estes’ violations
of the federal Animal Welfare Act include exhibiting
without a license and failing to:
Notify the USDA’s animal care office of the operation
of additional sites while Estes was licensed
Establish and maintain adequate programs
of veterinary care
Keep and maintain accurate records
Handle lions, tigers and cougars carefully and safely
Meet minimum standards for the care, feeding and
housing of rabbits, lions, tigers, cougars and wolves