The exterior of the former Sloth Encounters storefront. (Photo by Humane Long Island)

Sloth Saga Enters New Phase

Storefront closed, but animals’ whereabouts unknown

Larry Wallach, owner of the Sloth Encounters business located at 551 Veterans Memorial Highway in Hauppauge, has been in trouble repeatedly with the law for animal violations. The location has finally been vacated of all animals according to the Islip Fire Marshal.

“Nearly two years and several court orders overdue, the animals at Sloth Encounters’ unlawful ramshackle petting zoo have finally been removed; however, this long overdue victory is no consolation for the suffering sloths, kangaroo, capybaras and other animals who remain in the custody of a notorious animal abuser,” says John Di Leonardo, anthrozoologist and executive of Humane Long Island. “Humane Long Island urges the Honorable Judge Santorelli to fine Wallach and his landlord the nearly half a million dollars they owe the town for violating court orders and is urging the USDA to finally save these sloths by confiscating them and placing them in reputable sanctuary homes.”

Judge Santorelli has adjourned Wallach’s contempt charges until April 18th while the Fire Marshals continue to inspect the store and ensure the animals do not return. The judge has not granted an order to seize the animals entirely, which means Wallach may still have the animals in custody at his house or they may be trafficked elsewhere before the court can do anything. He has kept sloths in his garage before to continue doing home encounters. Di Leonardo hopes Wallach will be fined so he can’t use the profits to reopen another business elsewhere. Humane Long Island also urges the USDA to revoke his license so the animals can finally be free of him.

A USDA report that came out on January 30th cited three violations, two of which are considered violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. A video complaint the USDA received showed an employee hitting a sloth with a spray bottle. The employee was using the water bottle in an attempt to break up a fight between a male and female sloth. One sloth is seen falling to the ground and another sloth is seen with an injury around its mouth. The sloths are also seen being grabbed by the neck and showing signs of distress by attempting to bite and flapping arm motions.

This was a critical violation of the handling of animals; the USDA states that inadequate handling or control of animals during public interactions can lead to injury to the public and the animals. During public exhibition, any animal must be handled so there is minimal risk of harm to the animal and the public.

The other critical violation comes from the same video because the sloths are not separated. The USDA states that incompatibility between animals housed in the same enclosure increases the risk of negative interactions which can lead to injury or death of the animals. Animals housed in the same primary enclosure must be compatible and cannot interfere with the health of other animals or cause them discomfort. The male sloth goes after other sloths and there is no physical or visual separation between the sloths.

“Sloths are solitary animals, they’re not herd animals and they’re not flock animals,” says Di Leonardo. “So they don’t want to be touched by people and they also don’t want to be around other sloths. There’s been many reports of these sloths biting people and scratching and fighting one another.”

The third violation of the Animal Welfare Act from the January 30th report was about the general facilities of the business. The food bucket in the kangaroo enclosure had a broken handle. The broken handle left sharp edges exposed to the kangaroo inside the enclosure. The kangaroo could have been injured when eating out of the bucket. The artificial grass floor of the capybara enclosure was damaged. The damaged floor had a flap that is potentially hazardous for the two capybaras inside the enclosure. The USDA states that housing facilities must be appropriate for the species and shall be structurally sound and maintained in good repair to protect the animals from injury.

Wallach is no stranger to these violations as he has been cited over 60 times for violating the Animal Welfare Act. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission is currently investigating Wallach for his alleged involvement in the illegal trafficking of two Alaskan bear cubs. Florida police found the bear cubs wandering the streets after they escaped their 200-square-foot chain link enclosure earlier this year. Wallach helped Shea Hensley, who is facing 11 charges revolving around this case, obtain the cubs from a New Jersey zoo by giving him his license to import the bears. Wallach has denied any involvement but he is seen with the same bear cubs who are so young they haven’t opened their eyes yet.

“These animals are going to imprint on humans, they’re never going to learn how to be a bear or to be a sloth. These animals should be in the wild with their mothers, learning how to be wild animals. They shouldn’t be handled for money at a roadside zoo or an old pool supply store next to an ice cream shop,” says Di Leonardo.

Wallach has continued operating through restraining orders, fines, and criminal contempt. He has drugged animals, dumped animals at roadside zoos, and uses these animals for a quick buck and nothing else. He does not care where they go or what happens to the animals afterward.

“Larry Wallach is a very dangerous individual. He doesn’t care about people’s children, he doesn’t care about the animals, all he cares about is his own fame and making money,” said Di Leonardo.

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