DES MOINES, Iowa -- The owner of the "Academy of Wildlife Education" at Merle Hay Mall has been ordered to remove his animals from the mall or law enforcement will do it for him.
Ron DeArmond, the owner of the Pella Wildlife Company received an eviction notice Tuesday from the Public County District Court. The notice gives the Polk County Sheriff’s office permission to remove the animals, which include a bear and wolves at any time in the next 30 days.
In a brief phone conversation, DeArmond told Channel 13 News he plans to move his animals from the mall to a 100 acre, $20 million dollar “Wildlife Park” he plans to build in unincorporated Polk County. The problem is that the park does not yet exist and likely won’t anytime soon. On DeArmond’s website, he claims to have only raised $11,000 of the total needed to complete the project.
"With a project of this magnitude, you always look at it with a bit of skepticism. especially when you consider the financial ramifications," said Altoona City Councilman Kyle Mertz.
Both the Altoona City Council and Polk County Zoning and Development say they have heard informal proposals from DeArmond about the project. Polk County Zoning and Development requires a formal proposal for a conditional use permit before allowing a project like this to move forward.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is working with the Animal Rescue League, Des Moines Animal Control, and Blank Park Zoo on a plan to safely transport and care for the animals. A zoo official says there is limited quarantine space, but the zoo could potentially be used as a temporary refuge for the animals.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office says it will not move the animals before a plan is devised that is safe for the animals and the public.
"We want to make sure there is correct, safe transportation for the animals and a place for them to be cared for," said Sgt. Brandon Bracelin, public information officer for the Polk County Sheriff's Office.