After repeated complaints from animal advocacy groups and scores of violations from federal and state agencies, the owner of the embattled Mobile Zoo, John Marks Hightower, was arrested Thursday on multiple charges of animal cruelty.
The zoo, located on the roadside in Wilmer, has been the subject of numerous complaints and a pending lawsuit from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) over the conditions of the habitats its animals were kept in.
The facility was also cited for a number of violations by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which culminated in a ruling from an administrative law judge with the agency in November that saw the zoo shut down.
Since its closure, the zoo has been in the process of finding accommodations for the remaining animals, but in February Mobile County’s Animal Control department began its own investigation and started seizing a number of animals from the property that were in need of critical attention.Mobile County District Attorney Ashley Rich notified the press Thursday her office had moved to criminally charge Hightower with 28 counts of animal cruelty.
According to records kept by Mobile Metro jail, Hightower was taken into custody around 9:30 this morning
In an interview with Lagniappe, Chief Assistant District Attorney Deborah Tillman said prosecutors were limited in what they could say at this early stage of the case. However, she said the 28 charges against Hightower originated from an ongoing investigation into the Mobile Zoo and would likely span time periods before and after the facility was closed in November.
“We have had ongoing complaints, but until we have enough evidence to support our legal theory, we couldn’t make an arrest,” Tillman added. “Right now, the focus is trying to make sure the animals are all taken care of and that no further harm is done to them.”
According to a public information officer with Mobile County, more than 50 animals have been seized from the property since February. The majority of those were transported to approved care facilities or sold by the zoo to private citizens. At least of one of the animals — a Belgian draft horse — had to be euthanized by a veterinarian due to its health condition.