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Confiscation lawsuit article
by tigers9 on June 18, 2007
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Article published Jun 18, 2007
Zoo owner wants answers
By SUSAN LAKES
The owner of the Collins Zoo wants money or the return of many of his animals seized six years ago.
Gus White claims he was wronged when state wildlife officials swooped in on his U.S. 49 zoo and seized nine alligator snapping turtles, two speckled king snakes, one eastern diamondback rattlesnake, five red-eared slider turtles, 27 box turtles, two river cooter turtles, eight bobcats, three skunks, 10 alligators and two raccoons in 2001 and never returned them.
Now White and his wife, Betty, are planning another round of legal legwork in a long-standing exotic animal dispute that's been brewing in courts around Collins for more than five years.
The Whites want to know what the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks did with their beloved animals taken from their two-acre zoo, a place that's surrounded by a fence painted a bright Pepto-Bismol pink.
"They're not just animals. They're part of the family," Betty White said.
The Whites, who opened the Collins Zoo in 1988, have managed to keep the zoo doors open for visitors. Talking birds still greet tourists and snakes slither around in glass tanks inside. Outside, 18 big cats pace or laze around in cages next to caged wolves and tortoises.
Some visitors to the zoo recently gave it a big thumbs up.
"It's fun here 'cuz the animals are interesting," said Cory Sullivan, 12, of Pearl. Seeing all the animals and displays was a learning experience, he said.
"I learned that rattlesnakes don't have eggs," he said, adding he liked seeing the tigers best. "They're really big and they look really cool."
Raid on zoo
Betty White says she'll never forget Nov. 6, 2001. That's the day she saw all the state vehicles parked on both sides of U.S. 49 in front of the zoo.
"You would think bin Laden was in here the way they emerged on us," she said.
The Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks officials seized some of the zoo animals.
"We took possession of animals that were native to Mississippi - in violation of a public notice," said agency spokesman Jim Walker.
Gus White was arrested, charged with 68 counts of illegally possessing animals and spent a day in jail.
Long legal haul
The Whites have spent countless hours sitting inside courtrooms in Covington County, trying to find out what happened to their animals and trying to get them back.
On March 20, 2002, former Covington County Justice Court Judge Cecil Perkins ordered that all the Whites' animals and reptiles the state seized be returned within 10 days.
That didn't happen.
On Dec. 30, 2003, another justice court judge, George Thomas Sullivan, ordered the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks be held in civil contempt. That judge ordered the state to reimburse White $60,725 for the animals.
But on May 26, 2006, Circuit Court Judge Bob Evans issued a writ of prohibition against the Covington County justice court decision. Reggie Blackledge, White's attorney, said the decision puts White's battle back in justice court and ends White's contempt action against the state.
According to Blackledge, White must now file civil action against the state if he wants to collect the $60,725.
Betty White said she and her husband found an attorney from Tupelo who is willing to file lawsuits against the state in both federal and circuit court.
Attempts to reach the Tupelo attorney for a status update on the Whites' case were unsuccessful.
Meanwhile, the Whites struggle.
The $5 zoo admission fee brings in just enough to meet the estimated $20,000 annual cost to keep the animals fed.
"We make enough money to get by," Betty White said.
Gus is disabled and can't help out with all the maintenance work and chores anymore.
"He used to do it, but he's not able," said Betty White.
Gus White Jr., the couple's 14-year-old son, helps his mom some. The boy helps for a simple reason. He, too, loves the animals.
"You love them. You just can't help but fall in love with all these animals," Betty White said.
Betty White said she finds good times and bad times in the animals business.
"It's a lot of enjoyment, but it can be a lot of heartbreak," she said.
She remembers a particularly heartbreaking day. "We put down George, my tiger," she said of the Bengal-Siberian mix.
"He was the best. One day, a top of a tree fell down and hit me. He (George) sat there and cried until I could get up and go to the hospital," she said. "They can sense. Those animals can sense."
Taylorsville veterinarian Lisa Ainsworth has worked with the Whites and their animals for 13 years.
She said she is impressed with what she sees during visits. "The animals are extremely well cared for," Ainsworth said. "They look absolutely gorgeous."
That's the thing in the article that struck me too missmagnolia. These may be loved and well fed/cared for animals but that is much too little land to support that many animals.
Posted by: nellearas on Mon Jun 18, 2007 12:44 pm
All those animals on only TWO acres? That's sad.
Posted by: missmagnolia on Mon Jun 18, 2007 11:40 am
Once again, the perfect hba story--lazy. Why not interview our hbg Zoo honcho to see what she has to say? As is, even the state is allowed very little space for comment.
I agree it's unhappy for caged animals, but if the owners of Collins Zoo are keeping them healthy, unless you have a home for tigers yourself, don't get too hysterical yet, I advise.
As I say, the tale is incomplete, so let us reserve judgment until more facts appear--if they ever do.
Posted by: Wotan on Mon Jun 18, 2007 10:26 am
again... here come the opinions from people who arent in possession of the facts..'sigh' how tiresome.. I HAVE visited the Collins Zoo, more than once.. And the animals are in excellent condition, and are under very competant veterinary care. And Just what would you have these people to do to further conservation and preservation? They have their hands full trying to preserve the lands and animals in their charge. I think that educating people about these animals and their existence goes a long way toward promoting conservation, by awareness alone. Just try to reserve your opinions till you have had a chance to see for yourself. The people at the Collins Zoo will be glad to give you all the background you want.. You won't be disappointed, I promise.
Posted by: miss_demeanor on Mon Jun 18, 2007 9:41 am
I haven't visited this zoo, but because of this article, I will once I get settled in MS.
Without seeing and just reading, I feel like these folks are just animal collectors. They aren't really doing anything for preservation or conservation. I seriously doubt they can finacially care for the animals the way they need to be cared for.
Most wild animals need space and lots of vet care. This equals lots of dollars.
The idea of zoos can be touchy as it is, and a little, more or less private zoo can give zoos a bad rap.
Posted by: dippitydeb on Mon Jun 18, 2007 9:15 am
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