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Lagoon gets plea to give wild animals more space

Cages are too small, coalition says at meet

FARMINGTON — People gathered Tuesday night gave mixed reviews to Lagoon's treatment of its wild animals, but many agreed on one thing: Animal cages at the amusement park are too small.

Meeting in the Davis County Courthouse, about 45 people gathered to hear the Utah Animal Rights Coalition discuss the treatment of animals at the park. One of Lagoon's rides, the Wild Animal Kingdom Train, passes through the mini-zoo.

Gene Baierschmidt, director of the Utah Humane Society, said his organization was particularly concerned about the size of the cages for big cats. The park's cages meet U.S. Department of Agriculture standards, Baierschmidt acknowledged, but he said new amusement park zoos generally have larger habitats for big cats.

"I get depressed seeing big cats in small areas," he said. "The owners need to decide on larger habitats if they want to keep big cats. The USDA standards are a minimum. Animals deserve more than a living room to live in."

Contacted Wednesday, Lagoon spokesman Sheldon Killpack said the park was subject to unannounced USDA inspections and was given a clean bill of health at its most recent inspection, on Oct. 4.

"We know we're under the constant scrutiny of the public," he said. "Whether cages are too small is a subjective opinion. We meet or exceed USDA standards in all areas."

UARC director Sean Diener said the organization would pay to move the animals to larger, more natural habitats. Longtime Lagoon neighbors, however, said the park would probably not agree to such a plan. They urged the mostly younger animal-rights activists to work with Lagoon rather than fighting it.

Diener said he had tried unsuccessfully for three years to talk to Lagoon President David Freed. But Killpack said that the park was still waiting for Diener to call.

"Our interaction with him began a few years ago when he was picketing outside our property," Killpack said. "We gave him phone numbers of Lagoon officials he could speak with and asked him to call, but he never did. Monday was the first time we heard from him."

Several people who identified themselves as former or retired Lagoon employees defended the park's treatment of animals, saying zookeepers loved the animals and veterinarians were on call to treat sick animals.