By Matthew Rice
The future of a South Granville zoo, and the fate of the exotic animals that live there, hinge on a hearing in state Supreme Court later this month.
Cindy Bardin, who owns Jungle Experience on Route 149 has filed a suit against the state Department of Environmental Conservation in an attempt to be able to keep her exotic animals and re-open her zoo in the spring.
Bardin’s suit states she had been denied the right to due process when the organization denied a permit renewal needed to keep the operation going. Bardin, who has had exotic animals on her property for a number of years opened the zoo in the early summer of 2011.
The matter will be heard by acting state Supreme Court Justice Stan Pritzker on Jan. 20.
DEC notified Bardin Oct. 25, 2011 in writing informing her she had 60 days to move the animals from the facility or DEC would take actions including possible euthanization, prompting the lawsuit. The DEC outlined a number of violations and issues regarding the zoo and the animals.
Bardin’s lawyer, Robert Winn, said she was not afforded due process when she received the notification, because she was not provided with a hearing on the matter.
“I certainly believe she’s entitled to a hearing,” Winn said.
Winn further claims the federal license to exhibit wildlife issued by the U. S. Department of Agriculture supercedes any requirements put in place by DEC, meaning the state organization has no authority and cannot shut Bardin down.
“New York believes you have to get the state license also, notwithstanding being federally licensed,” Winn said.
Jungle Experience includes a cougar, African lion, tiger, bear, fox and other animals, including a capuchin monkey.
“I don’t think that under the interpretation of these rules DEC has jurisdiction over things like the lions,” Winn said.
Bardin was not given the chance to refute any of the claims made by DEC and stands to lose animals she has invested money procuring and so the Article 78 suit has been filed, Winn said.
“They can’t just send out a letter and say ‘get rid of your property within 60 days,” Winn said.
The move is a clear violation of due process clause, he said.
“I think all court (is) going to say is that due process requires some sort of hearing here,” he said.
In court papers in response to the lawsuit, DEC outlined a number of issues alleged to have taken place either at Jungle Experience, Bardin’s residence or at a public appearance in Queensbury in 2009.
DEC lists a 2011 episode where Bardin pleaded guilty to three non-criminal charges for having an unlicensed African lion and other animals without required bar code identifications.
Also in the filing DEC said Bardin had improper cages when exhibiting a tiger and a cougar at Sprinkles Ice Cream in Queensbury. The cages were held closed with tape and members of the public were allowed too close to the animals. A Time Warner worker claimed to have been touched by a bear cub through a fence; the facility had inadequate fencing; several of the animals at the facility did not have proper permits and in August 2010 DEC said it received a complaint from a veterinarian saying animals in Bardin’s care were not being taken care of properly, leading the DEC to file a complaint with USDA.
Winn said some of the allegations simply not true and Bardin was never told about some of them including the alleged incident with a Time Warner worker in which no sworn written statement was given.
Winn said the order to relocate the animals is on hold pending the outcome of the case and his client has agreed not to show the animals to the public until a determination has been made, but the zoo is closed for the season anyway.
In the court filings DEC dismisses the argument they do not have the authority to regulate Bardin’s operation because she had the federal wildlife exhibitor’s license.
“If the court were to accept the petitioner’s argument that she was exempt from needing any other license or permit from the DEC in order to possess, propagate, sell or exhibit designated species of wildlife in New York merely because she possessed a USDA exhibitor license, it would render virtually all of DEC’s statutory licensing authorities cited herein meaningless,” assistant Attorney General Mark Sanza said in his brief to the court.
Following the hearing Winn said Bardin’s goal is to reopen in the spring when the season starts back up.
The goal of the suit is twofold, Winn said. At a minimum he wants to get Bardin a hearing and a chance to answer the accusations but he also wants to show the DEC has no jurisdiction in the matter of exotic wildlife.
If things should go badly at the hearing, the loss of a local asset to the region would be unfortunate, he said.
“It would be a shame if it was closed. Parents who want to bring kids to see animals (at Jungle Experience) … they’d really have to travel considerable distance,” Winn said.