Private Louisiana zoo claims federal seizure of ailing giraffe wasn't justified

ETHEL, La. (AP) — A private Louisiana zoo says that federal regulators overreached last week when they took away an ailing giraffe.

Local news outlets report that Barn Hill Preserve, which markets close-up encounters with exotic animals, is challenging the decision by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to seize a giraffe named Brazos on Tuesday.

Leaders of the zoo, which also operates a location in Frankford, Delaware, told local news outlets that the department had “no warrant, no ruling, no judgment, and no oversight” when inspectors took the giraffe. Barn Hill's Louisiana location is in Ethel, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) north of Baton Rouge.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service says inspectors documented “continued failure” to provide adequate veterinary care, "resulting in a state of unrelieved suffering for the identified animal.”

Barn Hill said it’s being unfairly retaliated against for notifying the USDA that the giraffe was in poor health. The company said in a statement Wednesday that a veterinarian who has cared for Brazos for the past two years committed “committed medical malpractice by not treating the giraffe properly or possessing the necessary skills to treat him in the first place.” Barn Hill said the veterinarian has since been fired.

“If they can take our animals, they can take your cows, your horses, and we believe we have just been completely disrespected and that our civil rights are not being honored,” said Gabriel Ligon. CEO of Barn Hills Preserve. “The fact that our vet admitted via email that she misdiagnosed our animal and basically didn’t know what she was doing, I don’t know how we should be penalized. I think that the USDA should’ve given us more guidance and the resources.”

The company said it hired a giraffe specialist when it learned the USDA planned to seize Brazos, and that the specialist recommended the giraffe not be moved.

Barn Hill says it tried to appeal the decision but that inspectors showed up too soon.

USDA records show problems at the nature preserve since 2018, WBRZ-TV reports, including a 2021 complaint that veterinary staff failed to properly diagnose or address the health concerns of some animals.

The USDA said the giraffe was sent to another zoo licensed under the Animal Welfare Act.