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Dead animals, missing records - USDA reports reveal history at Franklin Drive Thru Safari

Inspections of zoos managed by Jason Clay show history of animals lacking clean enclosures, proper water access
Posted at 6:28 PM, Nov 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-22 00:24:47-05

FRANKLIN, Texas — Last week KRHD/25 News reported the latest updates on the sale of the Franklin Drive Thru Safari, touching on a federal animal trafficking indictment against the zoo's owner, Jason Clay.

The Franklin Drive Thru Safari is up for sale through the company Texas Ranch Sales, LLC. Now, a walk-through wildlife zoo near Canton also historically owned by Jason Clay, is up for sale too through the same company.

East Texas Zoo & Gator Park and the Franklin Drive Thru Safari have both seen a slew of issues over the years, revealed through 27 USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service inspection reports.

Reports begin to show up first in 2014, at a location registered to Clay labeled Site 003. While 003 is not named in the record as Franklin Drive Thru Safari, the Franklin zoo is one of two sites listed on Clay’s license, along with the East Texas zoo (to clarify: Clay was previously licensed with the East Texas Zoo & Gator Park, but current licensure does not appear on the USDA site).

Immediately problems were reported in February and July of 2014: the alleged mishandling of a drugged zebra, the lack of veterinary records on file for animals, no enrichment plans for primates, lack of attendants in petting zoos, and missing records regarding the acquisition or disposition - meaning the intake or moving - of animals.

Over the years, some USDA visits did find the site to be fully compliant at times.

In 2018, Clay first received reports on the East Texas Zoo and Gator Park, and in June of that year the park was found to be fully compliant. At the Franklin zoo in May of this year, a kangaroo was found to be very thin and weak.

In 2019, reports note that Clay began acquiring big cat species at his East Texas park - specifically a Lynx and a Caracal.

Inspectors also made records of reports that Clay was offering picture sessions with a baby chimp. This is noteworthy since Jason Clay was federally indicted in 2022 on charges of illegally trafficking a juvenile chimp.

2021 is the year Clay's parks saw a large number of issues at both locations.

Hundreds of animals were brought in and out of these parks with no records, as reports note. A young giraffe and hippo died at the Franklin zoo this year, with no vet records presented for either of them to inspectors. The USDA called this 'acute and suspicious.'

Still, in 2021 at the Franklin zoo, an aardvark suffered a serious injury to its tail. Capybaras at the East Texas zoo were found to be very thin. This was also the year Clay acquired a lion at the East Texas park.

Some animal enclosures were reported to be full of feces, and some animals' water troughs were empty. An inspector reported that when a water container at Franklin park was filled in front of them, the animals drank hungrily for minutes until the container was again empty.

Food was reported to be improperly stored, and inspectors were concerned that guests at the East Texas park were allowed to freely handle foxes, ferrets and other animals while unsupervised.

"... The facility also has a “baby room” where the public can interact directly with young animals," the USDA report from Aug. 4, 2021 reads. "At the time of this inspection there were 2 young coati, a fennec fox, 4 armadillo, and 2 ferrets in this area. While inspectors were in the room, the two coati continuously crawled up the inspector’s legs. The facility representative made the comment “the animals crawling on people and scratching people are part of the experience.""

By 2022, the zoos started the year out strong. Both parks were found to be fully compliant at the beginning of the year. In January, the East Texas park first reported another big cat: a clouded leopard. The USDA then continued to report missing paperwork on dozens of animals. The USDA renewed both exhibitor licenses for Clay at both parks in April.

Clay reported a white rhino at Franklin park in June. This same month, USDA inspectors informed Clay that he was in possession of approximately100 animals too many than what his permit allows (700 instead of 600) at the Franklin location.

Clay amended this issue by getting rid of 95 animals, later reports note, but was still five animals over the limit on August 30, 2022. His last citation ever listed on the USDA site is with the East Texas zoo, where baby lemurs reportedly escaped their main enclosure, hanging in a tree above an alligator enclosure.

KRHD/25 News has reached out to both zoos for comment and hasn’t received a response.

Both parks are still active and operational, despite being up for sale.