Animal activists fight to shut down sloth exhibit on Long Island

Chanteé Lans Image
Friday, August 19, 2022
Animal activists fight to shut down sloth exhibit on Long Island
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Animal activists are fighting to shut down a Long Island sloth exhibit, but the man who runs the experience says the animals are well cared for. Chantee Lans has the details.

HAUPPAUGE, Long Island (WABC) -- Animal activists are fighting to shut down an exhibit on Long Island that features sloths, but the man who runs the experience says the animals are well cared for.

Sloth Encounter in Hauppauge has been cited for several permit violations, along with reports of the animals biting people.

Sloths are slow moving mammals naturally found in tropical rainforests in Central and South Americas, but now, they are on display inside a building in Suffolk County.

"People get to interact with them," said animal special Larry Wallach, who runs Sloth Encounters. "They hold the babies they get to feed, and they have a great time."

His exhibit, which charges $50 for adults and $25 for children for a half hour, is operating illegally, according to Islip's town supervisor.

The business, located on Veterans Memorial Highway, was issued multiple town violations for things like a lack of fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide detectors.

Those have been addressed, but what remains an issue is a violation for change of use without a permit.

The building was converted in the spring from a pool supply company and is still operating off that permit rather than for the possession of wild animals.

Sloth Encounter does have a petting zoo permit from Suffolk County.

"These animals belong in the wild of Costa Rica," said John Di Leonardo, anthrozoologist and president of Humane Long Island. "They do not want to be touched, they do not want to be held, and they simply don't belong in Suffolk County."

He said the seven sloths -- five adults and two babies -- are being exploited, and he filed several complaints with the United States Department of Agriculture. He is demanding its closure after he says five people, including a child, were bitten there.

"I spoke to the parents of one child who told me that Larry told them that there were three other bites prior to that, and we've since heard from a witness that another person was bit since," he said.

Wallach says he's never abused the sloths, but that bites are always a risk.

"They're animals," he said. "People could get bit. They don't have rabies. If you have a dog, a snake, or a lizard, we all have pets, at some point, somebody nips us. That's just part of having animals."

Wallach has until August 29 to present the proper permit, otherwise the town could take him to court.

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