Federal inspectors document issues at controversial southern Indiana wildlife refuge

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CHARLESTOWN, Ind. – There are new allegations of unsafe conditions at a controversial southern Indiana wildlife refuge.

The USDA just released an inspection report from a visit to “Wildlife in Need” in Clark County on January 20.

Inspectors raised concerns about unexplained deaths of a number of wild animals and large cat enclosures that weren’t tall enough to prevent the animals from getting out.

In the documents, investigators noted four animals died, a kangaroo and three otters, since the last inspection in the fall of 2015. The inspector wrote that no veterinarian was contacted and no necropsies were performed, as required.

Investigators also say enclosures housing tigers and lions weren’t tall enough to adequately contain the animals, and they say some of the wild animals didn’t have the proper outdoor shelter to guard them from the elements.

The owner, Tim Stark, and the feds have been embroiled in a legal fight over his exhibitor license. A judge ruled federal authorities could not take it away. They filed an appeal in February of 2016.

The USDA found numerous issues of non-compliance in reports dating back to 2013.

The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting launched an investigation into the facility in 2014. Managing Editor Brendan McCarthy told FOX59 through their reporting they found evidence of deficient holding facilities, animals that weren’t getting proper care, and other issues.

Neighbors tell us controversy has always surrounded the refuge, though they aren’t bothered by it.

“I can see the pros and cons,” said Linda McGill, “I know there’s some people that are afraid of it and everything, but I’ve known him since he moved back there.”

“At nighttime you can hear the lions roaring… It sounds like they’re right in your front yard,” said Catherine Navetta, “With every animal, there’s going to be fear of something getting out, but I mean he’s caring for the animals he’s trying his best.”

Inspectors in January noted that Stark was “hostile and confrontational.”

FOX59 asked for comment and Stark said, “Ya’ll can print the bull (expletive).”

A spokesperson for the USDA said they’ll continue to inspect the facility unannounced, as is typical for USDA inspections. There is currently an open USDA investigation into the facility.

In January of 2016, 41 animals died in a barn fire at the facility.

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