- The Lakewood Zoo in Oconto County has struggled with permit issues for nearly 6 months. They’d hoped to reopen in April, but their doors remain closed and the future of the animals remains uncertain.
"We were late 3 days on our license, and when we refiled, we were denied," says owner Casey Ludwig, “That’s what happens, you can’t let those thing lapse… We never got a renewal notice, but it still shouldn’t have happened. Technically it’s my fault, no matter what.”
With their federal license lapsed, the town of Riverview also revoked the zoo’s local permitting, and under a newly created ordinance, ticketed owner Casey Ludwig for having the animals without a permit.
"They just passed that law a couple months ago, we've been here 5 years.... It's not the money, the problem is when the Feds come in to give us our license, they're gonna say you have a pending ticket with the town. So it doesn't matter if it's a penny or $100 they're gonna deny us, right away," says Ludwig.
That leaves Ludwig and the animals stuck without a permit, unable to open, and running out of money fast.
"It's really hard on us… On a day like today we've lost $3,000... It costs $200 a day for the health care, and to feed these animals and that's not including employee’s wages [or electricity and other overhead expenses]," says Ludwig, “Our employees are all sitting at home on unemployment… We have all volunteers right now. It’s really hard…. We’re trying to build and maintain the park… Right now we’re having to do fundraisers to try and raise money.”
“This area really needs a good economic boost… We’re trying everything we can to help not only our business get going, but help everybody else. We bring a lot of people to this area…We’re supposed to put people back to work... Our employees are volunteering right now. Their financial future is in jeopardy too. There’s no other jobs up here to speak of, it’s just an area where you just can’t run down the street and grab a new job,” says Ludwig.
With no visitors allowed, the zoo is scraping by on donations and volunteers. In the meantime, their permit request may not receive the town's approval until August.
"It's summer months [where we make our money], and it's really hard when you got a 4 or 5 month window, and then the snow flies and no one’s around," says Ludwig.
"We're ready to go back through inspection… And nobody here is trying to “go around” anything, or do anything illegal, we're just trying to care for these animals and get the proper permitting back in place," says Ludwig. He adds that the town could send a recommendation to the USDA to help them secure their federal permit once again.
“We’ve done way more than is expected of us under the federal guidelines for safety… It’s a very safe park. Not only are the tigers in their enclosures- very heavily fenced- we have double fencing in front of that, and in some places the park is triple fenced… If they could make a recommendation they [the USDA] could come back out here, and see that the park is totally safe.”
For now Ludwig holds on to hope that they can get their permitting back on track in time to still catch some summer business, otherwise he's doubtful they’ll be able to feed the animals through the winter.
“And all the sactuarys are full, for big cats. It isn’t like we can just whisk these guys down the road and find them a new home,” says Ludwig.
“If anyone can help, visit us on Facebook under ‘Lakewood Zoo’ and whatever ideas, we’re up for anything. But right now we can’t open to the public, and that’s what we need to do.”
Currently the Lakewood Zoo is depending on the help of volunteers and donations of food. If you're emptying a freezer or have freezer burned meat, you can drop it off at the zoo. All meat is fed out daily. You can also visit the zoo’s website and Facebook page. Those links are posted below.