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Escaped zebras’ owner charged with animal cruelty in Maryland

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 10/20/2021 Dana Hedgpeth, Maura Judkis

The owner of dozens of zebras living on a farm in Maryland has been charged with several counts of animal cruelty after three escaped nearly two months ago and one was caught in a snare trap and died, having “completely decomposed” by the time investigators found it.

Meanwhile, one of the zebras on the farm was found dead Tuesday, officials with the Prince George’s County’s Department of Environment said Wednesday. The dead zebra was seen by a news crew on a helicopter, and they reported it.

The state’s attorney for Prince George’s County charged Jerry Holly, who owns a large farm on Duley Station Road in Upper Marlboro, where he keeps the zebras, with three counts of animal cruelty, according to court documents filed Tuesday in the District Court of Maryland for Prince George’s County. The charges accuse Holly of inflicting “unnecessary suffering or pain on a zebra” and allege that he didn’t provide the zebras with “nutritious food in sufficient quantity” or give “proper shelter.”

Attempts to reach Holly were unsuccessful.

Officials with the Prince George’s Department of Environment, which has taken over the escaped zebra investigation, said in a statement that they are “not impounding the remaining animals housed on the property.” But they said they would look into getting them to other facilities “should the animals be removed.” Maryland’s Natural Resources Police are handling the investigation on the snare trap, which is illegal in the state.

County officials said Wednesday the other two escaped zebras remain on the loose.

One of the zebras that escaped from a Maryland farm was found dead last month, officials say

The zebra saga started in late August when they escaped from Holly’s farm. Many area residents reported sighting them and posted on social media photos, videos and updates on where they’d been spotted.

In the court documents, Rodney Taylor, the chief of Prince George’s County Animal Services division, said his agency got a call Aug. 26 that three zebras were “at large” on nearby Croom Road. When they contacted the animal caretaker, he said he would go check on a fence and count them. They also contacted Holly, said Taylor, who added that Holly was “aware the zebras were loose, but had no plan to recapture the zebras at that time.”

The county had been leaving it primarily to Holly’s caretakers to capture the escaped zebras and said the best way to do that was to lure them with feed and hay to a field near Holly’s property and gradually put up fencing to try to corral them. The county’s animal service’s chief had said it would take time and that the zebras could be easily spooked.

But last week, the county disclosed that one of the zebras had died after it was caught in a snare trap on private property that’s owned by the Girl Scouts and sits next to Holly’s land. Maryland’s Natural Resources Police said a private individual affiliated with the Girl Scouts called them in mid-September to report a dead animal, and when officers arrived, they found one of the zebra’s hind legs caught in a snare.

The Girl Scouts said in a statement that the snare trap was placed by an “unauthorized trespasser” on their property.

Video: Owner Of Escaped Zebras On The Loose In Prince George's County Charged With Three Counts Of Animal Cruelty (CBS Baltimore)

Owner Of Escaped Zebras On The Loose In Prince George's County Charged With Three Counts Of Animal Cruelty

Taylor said in the court documents that the caretaker has “been unable to recapture the zebras.” Taylor also said the escaped zebras “pose a threat to the community” as they “continue to wander through communities, railroad and public roads.” He said they were “also at risk, as evidenced by the death of one of the zebras while at large.”

He said the zebras lack adequate food, water and veterinary care. The zebra that died after getting caught in a snare trap, according to Taylor, was “within two feet of the fence line,” where 36 other zebras were being held.

An investigating officer with the Maryland Natural Resources Police said the “animal should have been seen or heard while it was dying from being caught in the snare if the caretaker had attended to the zebras in the fenced enclosure,” according to the court papers. The zebra “most likely died of dehydration after a period of a few days struggling in the trap,” the officer said.

Maryland’s Natural Resources Police have said they were not notified until Sept. 16 of the dead zebra and that by the time their officers got there, “the animal was completely decomposed.” Officials said the “cause of death could not be specifically determined.” The other dead zebra that was found Tuesday in the enclosure with other zebras had been dead “long enough” that it had entered the “rigor-mortis stage,” according to the court papers.

Taylor in the court filing called the zebras a “public nuisance” and said “media coverage surrounding the zebras has brought traffic and trespassers to surrounding homes.”

“These animals are being kept in the county in such manner as to disturb the peace, comfort, or health of neighbors and other residents of the county,” the document said.

County officials said Wednesday that they were continuing to try to capture the other two zebras.

Holly has a long history in the exotic animal business. He’s had a slew of animals at his properties in Florida and the one in suburban Maryland, including bison, kangaroos, zebras, camels and spider monkeys.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for licensing and inspecting animals, Holly has a breeder’s license for his facility in Maryland. Richard Bell, a spokesman for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said Holly does “have the appropriate license for the zebras.”

Holly has been cited for multiple animal welfare violations that include inadequate veterinary care, unsafe enclosures and filthy conditions, according to USDA inspection records.

In a 2014 USDA report, inspectors said they found a dead monkey at his property in Florida, as well as sharp ends of wires on shelters for monkeys and “dirt, insects, rodent droppings and food debris” in storage areas for the animals’ food.

Two years later, Holly was charged in Marion County, Fla., with possession of captive wild animals without a permit. He was found guilty and paid about $280 in court costs, according to online court records.

And in 2017, USDA officials said that there were roughly 170 animals — including gibbons, a giraffe, lemurs, spider monkeys, camels, kangaroos and roughly 51 zebras — at his Florida property and that there were “a number of animals with physical conditions that need veterinary examination.”

On the trail of Maryland’s fugitive zebras

The latest revelation in the zebra saga “shows exactly what’s wrong with treating animals as commodities,” said Kitty Block, the president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States. “We hope that this incident will spur the county and state to reconsider their current laws to hopefully prevent tragedies like this from happening in the future.”


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