A search is underway to find new homes for nearly 500 animals, including lions, tigers, alligators, owls and wolves, after officials announced a long-struggling Southern California sanctuary is shutting down.
The board of directors of the Wildlife Waystation in Angeles National Forest voted to close the site after 43 years, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife is collaborating with the facility and animal welfare organizations across the country to relocate 470 exotic animals, including 42 chimpanzees, agency spokeswoman Jordan Traverso said.
Some of the animals will be moving this week, Traverso told the newspaper.
“But it’s going to be a long process because there are so many, and some of them are old and in primary care,” she said.
Officials with the 160-acre Wildlife Waystation were unavailable for comment. Traverso said the sanctuary suffered extensive damage in a 2017 wildfire and during severe flooding earlier this year.
Federal, state and Los Angeles County animal welfare authorities have been scrutinizing the waystation for two decades involving animal safety and environmental issues, the Times reported.
Martine Colette, the waystation’s 76-year-old founder, resigned in May as president and chief operating officer.
Over the years, Colette, a dedicated animal welfare advocate, charmed Hollywood celebrities into donating to her cause. The waystation took in abandoned or injured animals and housed them until they found a home.
A mountain lion in a tiny cage drew her pity at a 1965 show at Pan-Pacific Auditorium and became her first refugee, according to the Times. Within 10 years, she had accumulated a house full of beasts and a yard full of wild cats, spurring the opening of the waystation in Little Tujunga Canyon north of downtown Los Angeles.
Authorities closed the facility to the public in 2001 and barred it from taking in additional sick, injured or abandoned animals. A year later, the U.S. Department of Agriculture suspended operations after saying inspections revealed the waystation had not fixed long-standing crowded, unsanitary and unsafe conditions.
Its license was reinstated after it spent $2 million to bring habitation space into compliance.
At that time, the annual food, medical and cleaning bill for the waystation was roughly $3 million. Several times that amount would be needed to bring the facility into full compliance with county, state and federal regulations, state officials said.