Former Sasquatch Zoo owner charged in hyena case

Special to the News Bulletin
Published: Monday, June 9, 2014 at 10:31 AM.

Debbie Mattox, who owned the Sasquatch Zoo for 23 years before selling it last year to the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge, has been charged with cruelty to animals.

She faces multiple misdemeanor charges in a case involving two juvenile African spotted hyenas brought from New Jersey to the Emerald Coast Wildlife Zoological Park in Crestview. Amanda Wilkerson, the Wildlife Refuge's executive director, was served with a summons for nine charges May 16.

Mattox faces five charges, all misdemeanors, including cruelty to animals, possessing wildlife without proper permitting and three caging requirement violations. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission brought the charges in late April. Summons were served by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office.

A probable cause affidavit states that Mattox was unaware hyenas were being brought to Florida until they arrived at her doorstep July 31. They wound up in Crestview after a Georgia man who originally offered to take them on a temporary basis reneged when he saw the animals were “older and bigger than he expected,” the affidavit said.

Stan Kirkland, spokesman for Florida Fish and Wildlife, said the cage was too small for the animals and offered no “safety entrance.” Feces had reached ankle height during the three months the hyenas were housed on Mattox’s property, he said.

Permits similar to what animal handlers must have to keep lions and tigers are required to house hyenas, Kirkland said. Wilkerson and Mattox face charges for not possessing the proper permits, documents show.

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