Attorney General Curtis Hill said that despite steady resistance from a Southern Indiana animal exhibitor previously found in violation of animal welfare laws, his office will work tirelessly this week to ensure that all remaining animals kept at properties operated by that exhibitor are removed and handed over to appropriate caregivers by the Indianapolis Zoological Society, whom a court appointed as receiver on Sept. 10.
On Monday, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) filed an emergency motion asking a court to issue a judgment against Timothy Stark — director of the nonprofit organization Wildlife in Need (WIN) — for allegedly removing animals this month and/or concealing them from authorities; and for allegedly inciting violence toward the Indianapolis Zoological Society. A judge gave Stark until 4 p.m. Tuesday to tell authorities the locations of all missing animals.
In court documents, OAG attorneys cited the absence of many animals documented to be at WIN’s Charlestown properties just a week earlier. These animals include six spider monkeys, two toucans, one pied crow, one African grey parrot, two macaws, one wolf, one caracal, one ocelot, three fishing cats, two cougars, two Asian small clawed otters, one prehensile porcupine and two African crested porcupines. Also cited was the concealment of several animals including one sloth, two Debrazza monkeys and three booted macaques.
All told, OAG staff cited the absence or concealment of approximately $169,500 worth of animals that had been at WIN’s properties just days earlier. Some of the animals were later found in the back of a closed box truck located off of WIN’s premises on a neighbor’s property. The animals lacked food, water, lights and ventilation. An Indianapolis Zoo veterinary team gave them prompt attention upon their discovery.
This week, meanwhile, OAG staff members have continued to monitor the removal of animals from the Charlestown properties as Indianapolis Zoo officials take them into custody.
Removal of the animals began Sept. 11 and remains ongoing. In addition to OAG and Indianapolis Zoo staff, authorities from the Indiana State Police and Clark County Sheriff’s Office are helping facilitate the animals’ removal.
On Aug. 28, a Marion Superior Court judge approved the state’s removal of all WIN’s animals except large cat species, which are set to be removed in the near future as a result of a ruling in a federal lawsuit brought by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).
Starting at 9 a.m. Sept. 11 and for nearly two hours thereafter, Stark refused access to the animal removal team, yelling at them and demanding a conference with the court. Later that afternoon, a Marion Superior Court judge instructed Stark by phone to comply with the court’s order and stop obstructing the removal of animals.
A court order issued Sept. 10 directed law enforcement personnel to “take all measures deemed in their discretion to be necessary to ensure the safety of all involved in the animal removal.”
WIN’s directors have claimed over the years to rescue and rehabilitate wildlife before returning animals to their native habitats. In reality, Attorney General Hill said, the nonprofit organization has a history of abusing animals, neglecting to provide basic necessities to animals and forcing animals to live in deplorable conditions. Many of WIN’s animals have been exotic species native to other countries.
Further, contrary to its stated purpose as a nonprofit corporation, WIN allegedly has failed to return animals to their native habitats and misapplied assets purportedly collected for animal care.
In February, following a months-long investigation, Attorney General Hill took legal action against WIN, alleging that the nonprofit for years has been used by its director, defendant Stark, to embezzle assets for his own purposes. The lawsuit also seeks WIN’s dissolution and the return of embezzled assets.
As a part of this case, the OAG is taking steps for preliminary relief and seeking to ensure that the animals receive proper care.
“Our presence at WIN’s properties is to ensure that the court’s orders are carried out,” Attorney General Hill said. “The order is to preserve the assets of a nonprofit that are at risk, and in this case those assets are the animals. The removal of the animals ensures their preservation and welfare. Our office is moving as quickly as we can to get this case to trial.”
According to court documents, Stark has a history of hoarding animals in deplorable living conditions, abusing and neglecting animals, trafficking animals, hiding animals from government authorities and attempting to move WIN animals out of state. The state’s allegations include horrifying details related to Stark’s methods of “euthanasia” and his abuse of animals in his care.
Between 2012 and 2018, WIN’s number of animals reported to the U.S. Department of Agriculture increased from 43 to 293. On Feb. 3, 2020, that agency ordered Stark’s USDA exhibitor license revoked based on repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act and a history of willful non-compliance.