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.