A Dickinson resident voiced concern over the welfare of a giraffe after visiting the Bayou Wildlife Zoo on July 12. The resident claims that the giraffe has overgrown hooves and is limping.

Khristin Dempsey/Courtesy

County officials have filed a federal complaint about the Bayou Wildlife Zoo after a visitor complained that a giraffe there looked mistreated.

Dickinson resident Khristin Dempsey, 27, drew attention to the issue on July 12 after she visited the zoo, which is in Galveston County at 5050 FM 517, but has an Alvin postal address.

She posted photos on Facebook, showing a giraffe that appeared to have scabs on its legs and overgrown hooves. Her post generated hundreds of comments and was shared more than 225 times.

Animal cruelty investigator Matthew Clausen, who is with the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office, has since reached out to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“The USDA is responsible for any complaints and inspections at zoos and petting zoos,” Clausen said in an email. “I have filed a complaint with USDA to get an inspection done.”

Clint Wolston, the owner of the zoo, disputed that the giraffe, named Bella, or any other animals were mistreated.

Bella’s hooves also can’t be trimmed without risk to the giraffe or to nearby humans, he said.

“First of all, you can’t find anybody that would trim the hooves on the giraffe,” Wolston said. “You’d have to tranquilize her.”

Even if it is difficult to trim her hooves, Bella deserves to be more comfortable, Dempsey said.

“She starts to walk towards us and she looks like she’s in pain,” Dempsey said. “The hooves are so grown out. On one foot, it looks like it was broken off.”

Dempsey originally had trouble making any headway with her complaint. She first called Galveston County Animal Control to complain and was thrown into a spiral of calls, with each subsequent group saying it didn’t know who would regulate the wildlife park, she said.

“I don’t really know what to do,” Dempsey said. “I called Galveston County Animal Control; I called Brazoria County. Everybody says it’s not in their jurisdiction.”

That’s because the USDA is the group tasked with enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, a 1966 law that regulates animal treatment in zoos, circuses, research and transport. The U.S. Department of Agriculture and its Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service enforce the law, according to the department’s website.

Representatives with the department did not respond for comment.

The sheriff’s office did get a call on the wildlife zoo and is looking into the situation, Sheriff Henry Trochesset said. No information can be disclosed at this time, as the investigation is not far enough along, he said.

“Animal cruelty is animal cruelty, if that’s the complaint,” Trochesset said. “We’ll go from there.”

The Bayou Wildlife Zoo is licensed through the department of agriculture and is up for renewal in December of this year, according to the department’s website.

Wolston’s zoo is for sale, with a $7 million price tag. Bella, who gave birth in March, is believed to be pregnant again, Wolston said.

“She walks fine,” Wolston said. “She’s not in pain or anything like that. She runs.”

The zoo doesn’t get much outside oversight because the animals are meant to run free, Wolston said.

“These are wild animals,” Wolston said. “They take care of themselves. If you come out here, you’ll see 460 animals and birds, all in excellent condition.”

Samantha Ketterer: 409-683-5241; samantha.ketterer@galvnews.com or on Twitter at @sam_kett

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