Fight Not Over After Merle Hay Mall Zoo Closes

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.
Data pix.

DES MOINES, Iowa - Protesters supporting a petition back in the summer to close an indoor zoo at Merle Hay Mall say their fight is far from over, even though the zoo closed its doors Monday.

The Academy of Wildlife Education kept bears, wolves, and other wild animals on display at the Merle Hay Mall, but public outcry over "inhumane conditions" led to an online petition demanding its closure back in June, gathering nearly 75,000 signatures. The mall announced about a month later the zoo's lease would be terminated and the exhibit closed in the fall, but mall officials denied it had anything to do with the petitioners, citing a $14 million renovation requiring more storefront space.

Protesters say the issue isn't resolved, however. While the zoo may be closed, what happens to the animals is entirely up to the zoo owner, Ron DeArmond, who owns the licenses to the animals. Rita Mason, the woman spearheading the petition effort, and founder of the Facebook page, 'Stop the Zoo at Merle Hay Mall,' said she and other supporters have found a wildlife sanctuary in Colorado willing to transport the animals and take ownership of them. She said DeArmond, however, is determined to either sell to breeders, or relocate them to a drive-through zoo in Altoona he plans to build.

"That drive-through zoo idea in Altoona will never happen," Mason said. "DeArmond doesn't have the necessary funds raised for a $20 million dollar project like that, and so these animals will end up being sold to breeders, unless he decided to work with us."

Mason says she hopes to gather more public support on the issue and convince DeArmond to relinquish ownership of the animals to the wildlife sanctuary in Colorado.



  • Brad

    Unfortunately the loud minority of fools who are completely out of touch with reality once again trumps the majority of people. That zoo was a great attraction for kids and families. But no, it’s not enough for those people to ruin the zoo, and attack the owner, now they want to kill all of the animals too. And yes, taking zoo-raised animals and dumping them in the wild as adults is a death sentence. Those that don’t starve will be hunted down and eaten within a few of days.

    These same foolish people lobby for legislation to prevent hunters from being able to use two-way radios, drastically increasing saftey. They also lobby for legislation to prevent dogs from being used to track down wounded deer, leading to a slow, long and painfull death for those animals. I really don’t think these people really even think about the consequences of what they are doing.

    • Bill

      My kids have learned a lot from this education center. They can tell you a lot about these animals a lot of other kids can’t. Sad to see so much turmoil over education. If you want to help, donate money on donation Tuesday.

    • Paige

      The animals not going to be released into the wild! We all know how detrimental that can be to captive raised animals! The way this “zoo” is run is incomparable to any other accredited zoo!

  • joe

    This sounds about as good as the PETA fools that broke into the mink farm, left the doors open, chased the out of the barns. Guess what happened… the mink got ran over on the highway ,sometimes the animals don’t have a chance against the do gooders-( idiots)

  • ervserver

    a mall isn’t proper facilities for a zoo. Convenient for parents and kids, but not humane for the animals

  • Paige

    DeArmond’s first priority is to make money. He’s run irresponsible breeding of exotic pets behind the scenes to fuel his “education” center! The mall is not a place for these animals, they need large enclosures with enrichment and quality diets. Something he could care less about.
    I’ve personally listened to his educational sessions and found alot of the information misleading and incorrect. His licenses are through loop holes in the agriculture department. His animals are obtained from other irresponsible breeders with unknown genetics and lack of veterinary care.
    If you want real wildlife education, take your kids to hikes or events through county and state dnr at local parks! Most are free or low cost by trained professionals with credentials!
    DeArmond also claims to have wildlife biologists on staff which is false. Having an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in wildlife conservation doesn’t make you a biologist! Hand over your animals to this CREDIBLE SANCTUARY!

  • Not supporting Merle Hay

    Yes, let’s close down a year after spending thousands of dollars expanding and improving the facility and right in the middle of fundraising to build the park that has been trying to happen since before they were in the mall. Oh and right after receiving an award from the Iowa Academy of Science for education. Bravo.

Comments are closed.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.