Carolyn Atchison has and continue's to help with investigations through the Federal government concerning the illegal trafficking of exotic animals. Many investigations have had repercussions across the United States and the world. The ABC newsmagazine 20/20 followed one such investigation and aired stories in November and December of 1999. Carolyn has also helped with stories by other television newsmagazines and a series of stories in The San Jose Mercury News, The Tampa Tribune - Florida Metro, WMAQ-TV (NBC) Chicago, Illinois; the investigative news magazine "Hard Copy," and an investigative series in The Arkansas Democrat -Gazette and more. There are stories pending with area media.
Below are excerpts from the stories, beginning with the most recent. You may read the whole story by accessing individual web sites.
The San Jose Mercury News (www.mercurycenter.com)
Friday, December 31, 1999
By Linda Golston, Mercury News Staff Writer
Faced with unprecedented controversy -- from the plight of captive elephants to the arrest of a top curator at the San Diego Zoo for animal theft -- the new president of the 184-member American Zoo and Aquarium Association has proposed stricter policies on how accredited zoos buy and sell exotic animals.
How some zoos dispose of their surplus animals made news earlier this decade when press reports disclosed that animals from the AZA institutions were being shot as trophies at hunting ranches. But the extent of the surplus exotic animal problem -- animals no longer wanted or needed by individual zoos -- was not revealed until the Mercury News obtained a copy of the database used by zoo officials themselves to record the births, deaths, goings and comings of animals in their care.
An analysis of that database showed that more than 1,000 mammals alone are sold, donated or traded to dealers and brokers each year by AZA zoos. And many of those animals are sold and resold, sometimes ending up on the auction block, in the sights of rifles at canned hunts, in the pet trade where anyone can buy them and sometimes even to the butcher, the newspaper reported in the series "Zoo Animals to Go," published in February.
AZA officials did not dispute the findings . . . and argue that much progress has been made by many zoos.
Since the series was published, the AZA has taken steps to fix some of the problems including:
. . .Revoking the accreditation of the Birmingham (Alabama) Zoo. The AZA and director Jerry Wallace refused to say why, but the Mercury News reported in its series that Wallace had been cited for double-billing the city for expenses, accepting cash for many animal transactions and selling some animals he reported as dead.
...But the AZA has more than just public-image problems. Some zoos are finding it hard to break old habits.
Carolyn Atchison, an owner and founder of the Animal House Zoological Park in Moulton, Ala., worked under cover for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for several years to investigate illegal sales of threatened and endangered primates.
But when two zoo directors accused of illegally obtaining some monkeys and took her to court to get them back, the AZA stood by its own. The organization stripped her of a professional membership in the AZA and has refused to reinstate her -- even after being informed by the Mercury News of her undercover work. The two zoo directors were later fired by their respective cities when their own dealings were questioned.
"The AZA isn't going to change, not today and not tomorrow," Atchison said. "I couldn't speak up at the time because of ongoing investigations but the AZA knows what I was doing."
. . . "Some zoos are still selling and releasing these primates to dealers," Atchison said. "There will always be a loophole and they're going to find it."
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Monday, November 1, 1999
By Chris Osher
AN OPEN MARKET
The American Zoo and Aquarium Association has a code of professional this for the 184 accredited members to protect animals. The code strongly recommends against selling zoo animals to hunting ranches or to animal auctions.
Despite such guidelines the trade in exotic animals flourishes throughout the nations, and zoos play a big role in that business, according to Tim Santel, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service special agent based in Illinois.
"People have got to understand that zoos have to stay afloat, and in order to stay afloat, they've got to attract visitors," Santel says, "Nothing attracts visitors quite like babies do. Many zoos breed, and they have their young. When the young are no longer cute and cuddly as they used to be, they're gone, and new ones come in to replace them. What happens to the animals when they're no longer cute and cuddly? They put them onto the market.
The market's not kind to the animals, says Carolyn Atchison, who founded and, with her husband runs the Animal House Zoological Sanctuary in Moulton, Alabama.
"Animals, especially large cats and antelopes, loaned, traded or simply donated from AZA zoos have played a major role in breeding mills, hunting ranches and roadside zoo, and many so-call sanctuaries," Atchison says.
For some species, such as lions and tigers, the markets have become so saturated that they're worth more dead than alive, she says, and they're killed for their meat, pelts and hides.
The Miami Metro
For roughly one-third of the surplus hauled away from AZA zoos each year, dealers decide where the animals will go, and how much the recipients will have to pay and whether the transaction is recorded so the animal can be traced.
All at a considerable profit.
"The money is mind-boggling," said Carolyn Atchison, an owner of the Animal House Zoological Park in Moulton, Ala. Atchison has purchased animals from dealers and has worked on several wildlife undercover investigations. "For these people with their foot in the door, it's not unusual for them to make $35,000 to $50,000 off of one haul."
The Moulton Advertiser
'HARD COPY' REPORTERS VISIT ZOOLOGICAL PARK
By Steve Oden
National exposure for Carolyn Atchison's Animal House Zoological Sanctuary continued last week when a camera crew from the syndicated news show "Hard Copy" visited the rural Lawrence County refuge facility for exotic wildlife.
In addition, the Carolyn and her park were featured in a cover story in "Alabama Living" magazine, published by the Alabama rural Electric Association.
According to Carolyn Atchison, the "Hard Copy" crew was in Alabama filming what they considered to the state's most unusual and interesting tourist attractions.
"They filmed and interviewed for over three hours. They were totally surprised when they got out here," she said.
The Cullman Times
MEET THE ZOO CREW
By Melanie Patterson
A Moulton women fondly calls the 17 tigers under her care, "The Boys."
Carolyn Atchison own's the Animal House, an animal sanctuary near Moulton.
The sanctuary consists of many creatures from all over the world - "Animals that have been severely abused," said Atchison with a hint of anger in her voice.
The 53-year-old woman has built her life around taking neglected animals under her wing and into her home . . . literally.
Atchison did not begin her collection of mistreated animals with the intention of opening a public zoo. It all started 17 years ago when she acquired Sheba - a Bengal tiger that had been abused at a roadside zoo.
From that first animal, Atchison took in more and more -until she finally attempted to offset expenses by sharing the zoo with paying customers. . . .
The Decatur Daily
SANCTUARY ATTRACTING TOURIST
By Martin Burns
. . . "I've always had a soft spot in my heart for animals, even as a child," Atchison said. "To see animals abused as they become in our system and our world is something I just cannot understand."