Three Employees, Including The President Of The Once Esteemed Noah’s Ark Sanctuary, Charged With Animal Cruelty

Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary in Locust Grove, Georgia, has flourished for more than 30 years as a safe refuge, rehabilitation, and adoption center for thousands of animals in need, including exotics and wildlife, under the compassionate and experienced hands of the Hedgecoth family.

Shelly Lakly, who became the President of Noah’s Ark in November 2021, along with two other employees, are now facing multiple animal cruelty charges after several citations against the sanctuary were ignored.

Sadly, it appears that the sanctuary’s board of directors has taken over the once-esteemed nonprofit organization that is now left floundering amidst alleged lack of competency and accusations of ‘for-profit’ corruption.

The sanctuary’s former veterinarian, Dr. Karen Thomas, and Outreach For Animals, an animal welfare group founded by wildlife safety expert Tim Harrison, are plaintiffs on the Notice of Intent to sue Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary on allegations of multiple federal violations.

A prior notice against the sanctuary detailed several violations of the Endangered Species Act, involving 31 ESA-protected animals. The list of animals included five tigers, a lion, two spider monkeys, five military macaws, four scarlet macaws, one yellow-crested cockatoo, eight white cockatoos, and one grizzly bear.

“Everything went to pieces in 2022,” Dr. Jack Kottwitz, a former longtime Noah’s Ark Sanctuary consulting veterinarian, who currently serves as an Assistant Professor in Large Animal Clinical Sciences, Pharmacology, and Toxicology told WAN.

While Dr. Kottwitz, who began collaborating with the organization in 2008 when Dr. Thomas requested his help with a zebra, is no longer directly affiliated with Noah’s Ark, he has remained concerned about the questionable happenings that have plagued the organization, which was the forever home to more than 1,000 exotic animals, wildlife, and domestic animals. Since then, hundreds of animals have died and hundreds have been removed from the property with no information provided as to why.

Dr. Karen Thomas, who provided the organization with free veterinary care for more than 20 years, was shockingly ousted from the board in August 2022. Founder Jama Hedgecoth was removed from the board and terminated in October after reportedly trying to get a temporary restraining order to prevent further damage and suffering to the animals at Noah’s Ark. This was then followed by the removal of all other board members.

“Jama Hedgecoth’s vision, along with the desire the Hedgecoth family had for a better world for both animals and children, is what made Noah’s Ark so special and successful. The results that the Hedgecoth family received from Jama’s “Share the Dream” was a way to say that all animals’ lives are valuable, no matter what species, and that they wouldn’t turn away an animal in need if they were able to help it,” said Shazir Haque, who served as a proxy for Jama Hedgecoth during a board meeting in June 2022.

“Roughly two years ago when this new board started an unprovoked war against the Hedgecoth family, is when Noah’s Ark, a facility with a clean record for 30 years started to become hit with several violations, citations, animal cruelty charges, and allegations of financial crimes due to their lack of transparency of their financials. During this time, investigations from USDA, Outreach for Animals, Animal Control, Department of Natural Resources, the Solicitor Generals Office, Georgia Department of Agriculture, the County Commissioners Office, and Senator Emanual Jones’ Office showed how far their skill set is from being able to provide even the basic necessities for what an animal requires,” continued Haque.

“Although they will claim they have done nothing wrong and that all of the horrific things that happened to the animals under their care is somehow someone else’s fault, ask yourself one question, could everyone investigating actually be wrong? If you got the eerie feeling of no, something is definitely wrong here, we urge you to get involved and lend your voices to the animals who remain alive under their care,” concluded Haque.

A new lawsuit was filed in the beginning of December 2022 to question what the board was doing. The more than 30-page complaint contained an additional 200 pages of evidence against Board Chairman Glenn Ross and President Shelly Lakly and current board members, including allegations of failure to follow the Georgia Animal Protection Act, violation of the Georgia Nonprofit Corporation Code, Fraud, Unlawful Distributions, and violation of Georgia Nuisance statutes.

The problems escalated even more in August 2022 when the Avian Flu hit Noah’s Ark, resulting in the dead bodies of hundreds of vultures scattering the ground for several weeks.

According to first-hand reports, an estimated 700 birds died in the first few weeks and were left to decay until Noah’s Ark reported the incident. Once notified, the state then ordered for more than 100 birds housed at the sanctuary, including cranes, owls, emus, ostriches, chickens, turkeys, geese, and peahens, to be euthanized for fear of them spreading the disease. Why were dead bodies of vultures left to rot?

This represents the largest depopulation of birds due to the avian influenza outbreak in Georgia, which is the largest poultry supplier in the United States, with poultry production being a multi-billion-dollar industry in the state.

A USDA-APHIS inspection at the sanctuary in September 2022 resulted in the single worst inspection report Noah’s Ark has ever had. This inspection also resulted in an Official Warning from the USDA for violations of the Animal Welfare Act. This unheard of and unprecedented inspection led to Senator Emanuel Jones’ increasing scrutiny of the leadership at Noah’s Ark. Despite online claims of facility improvements and increased veterinary care, the sanctuary continues to accrue many safety and animal welfare violations during inspections by USDA-APHIS, including an inspection as recent as September 2023.

“I applaud the Henry County Court System for taking steps to conduct this much-needed investigation of the Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary,” said Senator Jones in a statement. “I will continue to push for further action to be taken against those who wish to put these innocent animals in harm’s way, and I know that this is only the beginning of a long battle to ensure that Noah’s Ark is held accountable for their abuse.”

Despite all of the allegations against Noah’s Ark, the sanctuary sadly remains open to the public for 5 hours a week.

Sign the petition to help return Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary to the Hedgecoth family which cares about the safety and welfare of the animals, HERE!

You can also contact Attorney General Chris Carr to put pressure on fixing this dire situation at (404) 458-3600 or email ccarr@law.ga.gov

You can help all animals and our planet by choosing compassion on your plate and in your glass. #GoVeg

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