A fringe animal rights extremist group is going beyond obvious high profile private zoos and is now specifically targeting a zoo in East Texas. Thankfully, her efforts failed but simultaneously exposed the type of people with nothing better to do than to go after law abiding citizens and try to tear down their hard work. On this woman’s webpage and group, who herself happens to be a convicted felon, busted for stealing ketamine from the vet’s office she worked at, her latest target was a supposed animal abuser Jason Clay. I decided to investigate this for myself.
Surprise Visit To Check On Claims of Abuse
I gave Jason Clay a surprise visit at his Franklin Safari. He welcomed me with southern hospitality and I spent one day at the Franklin Safari and the next day at the East Texas Gator Park & Zoo. I learned that Jason built this business himself working his way up doing jobs at zoos and learned the business with a heart for animals first. “My father became disabled when I was 14. I’ve got nothing but a ninth grade education. Got a GED finally, when I was 18. I started working alone around 20, 21 years of age. Ten years ago, I built a drive thru zoo in Franklin. Got it open and built it up. It’s been very successful,” says Jason.
Operation costs are high as he spends about $6,000 to $8,000 a week on food as he houses 120+ species between his two parks. He also employs 16 employees who come with their own families. I got to meet some of them who he gave a second chance to, helping them clean up and played the role of a father figure to those who needed a second chance.
Preferring to keep these good deeds to himself as modest people do, Jason is a normally quiet person who wants to be left alone and live his own life. But the actions of these “cancellers” has forced him to defend himself as random strangers use the power of social media to define him negatively due to a bigger political agenda trying to cancel his hard work, sacrifices and what he has built slowly over decades. He is now forced to think about the industry as a whole and the world that is rapidly changing as the modern world becomes more distant and less informed about what it means to interact with animals daily.
Distorting Pictures To Make Accusations of Abuse
I wanted to get to the heart of the accusations. Jason transparently showed me the 70 USDA write ups that suddenly became zero in January 2022. The issue was the inspection agent who was obviously doing her inspections with an agenda to shut them down.
Tyler Daw, who runs Jason’s Gator Park facility in East Texas, said that the inspector Cynthia Disegualdo, admitted she wasn’t there to help and that her agenda was to shut down private zoos. How do animal rights extremists get government jobs in organizations like the USDA?
Thankfully, Jason pursued the proper action and went to other good people within the USDA to report this woman’s rude and agenda-driven behavior and to remove her from inspections of their properties. There was little choice. How do you work with someone who wants to shut you down? The USDA is supposed to guide and provide teaching moments, not to go on a warpath to destroy. Thankfully this was corrected.
Cynthia (Cyndy’s) write-ups were disingenuous. One of them involved a picture of a baby mudjack deer in a puddle of mud. She took a picture with an angle of the wiring to make it look like the baby animal was in wet muddy conditions in a cage. But the real life setup actually was a big space that gave the baby animal access to a temperature controlled “house” with clear and easy access. I took video of the setup for people to see what it was in reality.
Another was a mama capybara who looked unhealthy during her pregnancy merely because all her resources were going to her children. Now she’s fine.
But that misleading photo she took became the poster child for why Jason Clay was an animal abuser. In addition, she had sent this picture to her social media friends apparently in the hope of inciting a mob. Thankfully it failed as many who visited Jason’s facilities saw through the hyperbole.
Crying Wolf: Everything Is Abuse, So Nothing Is.
This calls in the bigger question of handling animals and what is abuse. I personally have had animals that responded well to loud auditory cues (aka yelling). If someone were to catch me during a disciplinary moment, put some ominous music in the background and do some movie magic, I could look like the biggest monster and animal abuser. Though the reality is people who know me well know I love my animals even more than some humans.
That’s exactly what animal rights people are doing: spending their time targeting political enemies and vilifying them with manipulated or out of context pictures or video and lots of movie magic to intensify the drama. However if you dig deeper you will see most of it is on a foundation of a house of cards. The claims are just so ludicrous.
Jason adds, “Have these people who complained ever seen the facilities? I would [expect to] receive more complaints from customers than anybody because they can visually see everything. Yes, but we don’t have [customer complaints]” around the treatment of the animals. He cites his transparency while many other zoos have fake rock walls. “You can’t see beyond the [fake rock walls]. I don’t have that. It’s very transparent. You can look right through the cages and see the back of the other cages.”
Guilty Before Proven Innocent & Aftermath of Seizures
Jason says when these animal rights people make accusations, “you’re guilty before proven innocent.” That is a sad state to be and we must fight that.
Tyler adds that many animals seized by animal rights groups end up being euthanized or hurt in the end, “A lot of times whoever seizes them is not going to be able to take care of them, because they don’t [have the expertise]. They’ll just going to euthanize them to save money. ‘oh, there’s nowhere for them to go’, They might keep them for a couple days or a week, and then euthanize them. And then they get to pocket all that money that was just handed to him [through the whistleblower fund]. It sucks all the way around because the animals get hurt by it. The bonds with keepers [are lost], it is bad all the way around for everybody.”
And don’t forget the bonds with customers or regular visitors to places like Franklin Safari or East Texas Zoo where the community has watched the animals grow up and get old.
The Happy Animals Never Gets Reported On
Over a year ago, when Texas had its power grid crisis and people were freezing to death and private homes sacrificed animals to stay alive, Jason’s two facilities didn’t skip a beat and no animal perished. Meanwhile, “professional” zoos saw animals perishing left and right.
Every season presents weather conditions. No one has reported on the hard work it takes to prepare for a storm which Jason and Tyler never miss a beat on. This includes securing larger amounts of hay (four times the amount for a winter storm), veterinarian bills and building wind blocks, among many other activities.
Jason’s expertise is also well sought after. After you’ve built a successful operation, something many copycats tried to do but failed in, people constantly ask him questions. Caring for animal welfare is number one priority as he patiently answers questions even from veterinarians. He has the practical experience to know which conditions are good for exotic animals and which animals can interact and share space together. He gives freely and without making a show of it. I was able to overhear many conversations during the time I spent, to see someone working in the trenches and doing a lot of charity while at it.
In addition, I did not give Jason time to react as I came to his facilities and got the full tour of both. Everything was clean and the animals were happy with ample space, food and care.
To create this harmonious environment, it’s a lot of expertise and that came from trial and error. Errors are minimized due to Jason and Tyler’s expertise but like humans, animals all have individual quirks and some click with others. There is a type of EQ (emotional intelligence) that is needed to manage these animals, exotic animals or just regular barnyard animals. Tyler says, “Each animal, it could be the same species, is gonna have a different personality. It’s like people, you just have to learn their traits and learn what they like to do.”
It’s an EQ that is missing from many of the animal rights activists who would rather see the animals dead than with the owners they’re trying to cancel. And that is not hyperbolic. This “I don’t care” attitude towards animals is the saddest and most unreported story in all of this.
Plenty of Space But What’s Big Enough?
Animals in Jason’s properties have plenty of room. I got to see a Brazilian tapir with a huge pond and caught a great video of Georgie playing in the water and come greet visitors with love. How cool is that.
Tyler Daw said it well. It can’t all be the “Hilton” as far as accommodations but the animals have plenty of space. We all want a bigger house but what is enough? What is too little? That is arbitrary but seeing the happy animals it showed me they had ample room and care.
Every animal is different. Some can be put with others, while others like solitude. That is up to the private zoo owner or manager to make. There is not one cookie cutter solution and those who claim they have one, clearly have never had animals of their own and are living in a delusional hypothetical world, projecting out their own neglect, manifesting in hatred. I feel sad for these people but that is clearly what’s going on if they’re spending so much time to vilify, cancel and perpetuate hatred towards someone they do not know.
Exhibiting Is Not A Bad Word
One of the hallmarks of the “animal rights” movement is to stop breeding and to cancel people from exhibiting. While no one condones abuse of animals in performances, the full cancellation of animals in circuses have been a tragedy. There is a common sense element that was thrown out in order to appease the canceller calls. What if circuses can continue to bring joy to adults and children, but with more safeguards from abuse? Sadly that route wasn’t taken.
What a sad world we live in when the animals themselves, some who clearly enjoy performing, are prevented from doing so.
There is room in this world for wild animals and captive ones. Captive animals in fact live longer than those in the wild.
Breeding Is Not A Bad Word
It is through captive animals that we are able to help grow endangered animals and those in danger of being extinct. To spay and neuter everything is killing a future bloodline. So “adopt don’t shop” sounds good but let’s celebrate all options and vilifying people who shop is not ok.
When it comes to endangered animals, I noticed in certain sanctuaries they are spayed and neutered. Those same sanctuaries that have all these rules did not have happy and people-friendly animals like I saw in Jason’s facilities or some other vilified or cancelled private zoo owners, where I was able to touch and interact with tame animals. Spaying and neutering exotic animals is also a violation of the Endangered Species Act. But yet no one is going after them?
It seems “animal rights” and the “sanctuaries” are turning the blind eye to enforcement of rules because you have activists like Disegualdo who are getting into positions within government, with a specific focus on who to write up and who to ignore.
A Word To Those Obsessed With Negativity and Cancel Culture
It’s important we need to look at the big picture. Those who are focused on negativity and want to cancel hardworking entrepreneurs like Jason, probably have never built anything for themselves, or taken a risk or understood that life is imperfect but looking at an overall picture is what is reasonable and sane. Step back and ask yourself: if the animals are thriving and growing in population, isn’t that a happy environment? Why are we nitpicking or searching for problems?
It is no coincidence that many of these “solutions” the cancellers want involve limiting human interaction with animals, first and foremost. A second strategy is to cancel private zoos by vilifying successful private zoo owners, wearing them down with complaints through the media and smearing their good name on the internet. A third strategy is to get their fanatic extremists inside government agencies like USDA, with people like Disegualdo, harassing private zoos. Finally, the overall message of writing up those who breed animals as a bad thing or God forbid, make a profit selling animals, is basically hurting the ability for endangered exotic animals to multiply. That’s sad.
Most importantly, with this extreme and crazy behavior from the animal rights activists, full of negativity, I ask them, “are there more productive things you can do with your time on Earth?”
A Word To Private Zoo Owners Who Are Being Bullied
Jason’s story is actually a powerful one of smart research, fighting back the right way and using important relationships to get to the source of the problem and correct the situation. His profile also provides inspiration for those who want to do good and help animals and humans. Sad is a world that would teach Jason a lesson that “no good deed goes unpunished”.
It is unfortunate that private zoo owners can’t just focus on their mission anymore. They have an added burden of having to constantly prove they’re not abusing animals. It is now 24/7 public relations, communicating to people what you’re doing on top of the operations, the compliance and everything that comes with running a business. But fight back with positivity and transparency because you have nothing to hide.
Speak about the great things this high level of interaction does. Jason said it best himself, “A lot of people [have chosen] homeschooling because of COVID. So then they venture out and educate more [with the] animals or other extracurricular activities.” Facilities like Jason’s is an important and necessary option.
Fanatical “animal rights” extremists are so desperate for a bad guy they are now attempting to shut down places in one of the last free states when it comes to animal and exotic animal ownership, Texas. These places like Jason’s facilities give so much joy and education to young people. And more importantly, let’s celebrate a man who has created and maintains 16 jobs. It’s easy to vilify him and just throw out an “animal abuser” accusation or just say they’re all about money, but those who do so seem like they need to look at the mirror themselves.
Maybe we as a society should check our priorities? Maybe instead of hurting Jason, those who have a problem with his practices can work with him to correct any legitimate mistakes he’s making so we can preserve two beautiful locations that enrich the communities and our world and where animals are happy? The overall goal for these extremists is to cancel, not to build, preserve and improve. That has become very clear.
About the author: Marc Ang (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a community organizer in Southern California and the founder of Asian Industry B2B. He is also an animal welfare advocate who believes in looking at the lifespan of an animal and the big picture to craft practical legislation that respects the bond of an animal and its owner. Marc’s book “Minority Retort” will be released in early 2022