Jungle Safari AKA The Zoo Pat and Robert Engesser
Jungle Safari AKA The Zoo
Note the first cub is only 6 weeks old and not even old enough for her first inoculations to protect her from disease. USDA guidelines say she should still be with her mother until she’s four weeks old. If that had happened she wouldn’t tolerate being touched by humans. She’s clearly stressed and wants to nurse when the keeper tosses in the furry toy. The 10 month old is biting her front paws hard and the videographer notes that back claws are visible, but it looks like she’s been declawed on the front, even though that’s been illegal since 2006. When asked what zoo the cubs are going to the keepers get vague and we are pretty sure it’s because they aren’t proud of the circumstances that await these cubs.
Owned by Pat and Robert Engesser
A look at the Facebook pages of the Engessers and their employees reveals all sorts of recent photos of injured, inbred, and sick cubs being used as exhibits. Almost every single one has rubbed its nose raw and bloody, and photos of staff handling newborn cubs make it clear that Jungle Safari “pulls” babies from their mothers and sticks them in dog crates nearly immediately after birth. Because Engesser tries to breed white tigers, many of his cubs are clearly inbred (cross-eyed, etc.) but he still keeps some of the deformed female cats as “breeders,” resulting in generation after generation of damaged cubs.
The Engessers are the very definition of why cub-petting is bad. But, they aren’t your typical exploiters. The information I found suggests that the Engesser family may be the very founders of America’s private big cat industry.
The Engessers have been abusing big cats for a long, long time. It all started when Robert’s great, great grandfather, George Engesser, went to Africa and came back with a live lion. During the Great Depression, George was the owner and operator of the now-defunct Schell Bros. Circus, which featured big cat acts. He had several children who grew up raising and working with the exotic animals in his circus, and his youngest daughter, Roxy Engesser (Robert Engesser’s mother), decided to make a living breeding exotic cats for zoos. In 1968, Roxy founded “Engesser’s Exotic Felines”, the very same traveling cub-petting exhibit that’s called “Jungle Safari” today. They’ve been touring America’s parking lots every year since then, which has to make them the longest-running cub photo exhibit in the country. In fact, they probably created the idea!
We found an interesting article about Roxy Engesser in the 1984 Ocala Star-Banner. Back then, she was apparently planning on building a “retirement home” for her animals in a Levy County subdivision, much to the chagrin of local residents who didn’t want big cats in their backyards. There are some pretty shocking quotes in this article — apparently, when it was written, the Engessers had a whopping 286 “breeding big cats” on lease to other private exhibitors nationwide. And Mrs. Engesser told the reporter that the concerned neighbors “didn’t understand” her animals, claiming that “these aren’t wild cats, they’ve been hand raised. After about 10 generations in captivity, these animals even lose the instinct to kill their prey.” She also claimed that an escape would be unlikely because “these animals are like your dog.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a blatant lie in my life!
Roxy has since passed away, leaving the family business to her son, Robert, and his wife, Pat. Robert appears to be quite the character, to say the least. His Facebook feed is laden with Confederate flags, anti-Muslim/Obama memes, profanity, and crude sex jokes, and his “friends” list reads like a who’s-who in big cat exploitation, with names such as Joe Schreibvogel Maldonado, Vincent Von Duke, Kathy Stearns, Brian Staples, Josip Marcan, Doc Antle, Lynn Culver, and Felicia Frisco. It also reveals that Jungle Safari frequently buys/trades cats with the notorious “Hovatter’s Wildlife Zoo“, a roadside menagerie in West Virginia that sells photo encounters with tiger cubs with little regard for federal regulations. And according to this article, in 2010, a python was stolen from Jungle Safari after the tent was closed for the night. Someone simply walked into the parking lot where the zoo was set up, cut the lock on the snake’s enclosure, and made off with the animal. What if the vandal had opened the big cat cages instead?
And as if his animal exploitation weren’t enough, apparently, during his exhibit’s recent stop at Ft. Myers, Mr. Engesser spent his time secretly snapping photos of young women’s backsides so that he could post them on Facebook with snide comments. Is this the kind of person that anyone wants to welcome into their town?!
In 2016 one of Engesser’s employees was arrested while they had set up shop in Alabama. Florence Police Department detectives on Saturday charged Daryl V. Raymond Jr., 48, of Stockholm, Maine, with two counts of sex abuse of a child under 12. He was working for Robert Engesser and the Jungle Safari Petting Zoo.
Now, for the financials. In interviews, Mr. Engesser speaks as if he were visiting small towns out of the kindness of his heart — he claims that they make admission to their “zoo” free so that children who don’t live near a traditional zoo can have the experience of seeing exotic animals, and tells people that the money they make at the exhibit supports the “rescued animals” at his farm. But this business website estimates that “Engesser’s Exotics L.C.”, the parent company of Jungle Safari, rakes in over $1,000,000 per year off the backs of their cats. And once you do the math, that number makes sense.
According to their website, the Engessers estimate that 4-6000 people visit the Jungle Safari exhibit in an average week. Let’s say that 5,000 people visit. Now, if just one out of every four visitors pays the $15 fee to have their photo taken holding a cub, that’s nearly $19,000 in profit at a single location (and Jungle Safari typically “tours” six weeks at a time before returning to their property in Trenton to “rotate cats”, i.e. replace growing cubs with younger ones). That brings us to a low estimate of $114,000 per month just from cub photos, and Jungle Safari is on the road for at least six months of the year. That’s a lot of money made off of cub petting — before factoring in the $1 “admission fee” the Engessers charge to see their “rare” white tiger, which news videographers have recorded frantically pacing in circles and throwing itself against the walls of its tiny travel cage. Which brings me to my next point…
In interviews, Robert Engesser reassures concerned reporters that his animals “have larger enclosures” on his “27 acre farm” in Trenton, Florida (and, according to that last article, that he believes big cats “deserve a lot of respect” — strange words from someone in his business). Well, I used Google Maps satellite data to take a peek at this spacious “farm”, and I was pretty surprised — there appears to be little more than a pile of old semi trailers and a few tiny, trailer-sized chainlink enclosures in the backyard. And sure enough, recent photos from Mr. Engesser’s Facebook page show his cats living in small, concrete backyard cages, with rusty chain “leashes” around their necks (those photos are in the file). Engesser was technically right — the home enclosures are “larger” than the pathetic cages he hauls the cats around the country in, and they are on his farm. I guess he forgot to tell the reporters that his cats only have access to a few square feet of the huge property he brags about.
It seems that the only way Engesser can get business is by deliberately conning small towns who don’t know what they’re supporting.
Two Cats Who Were Bred at Roxy Luce’s Backyard Zoo
Snorkel Tiger was born in 1996 to the same abuser who bred Nakoma the lion. She breeds lions and tigers and uses them to make money by selling you a photo of you holding a cute little cub. Typically these cubs are starved, deprived of bone building calcium and even poisoned to give them constant diarrhea so that they cannot gain weight. They do this because the cubs are only profitable while they are small. Once they reach 45 pounds they cannot be touched by the public, according to FL state law, and then they are discarded.
Snorkel was given to a small family operated circus when he exceeded 45 pounds at the age of 6 months but because he had been so deprived of nutrition he was very tiny and stands on little stunted legs. The other bigger circus tigers beat him up and one bit him across the nose so severely that when he chuffs it sounds like he is drowning, thus his name. He has never had soft grass to roll in nor a pool or mountain cave to call his own before going to Big Cat Rescue.
Nakoma Lion was purposely starved, deprived of vitamins and calcium, and kept in a small concrete space. Hardly conditions fit for a king.
That’s when Big Cat Rescue stepped in and purchased young Nakoma at a livestock auction. Imagine that, the “king of beasts” being auctioned off . Nakoma was so crippled in the hind legs and so malnourished that no one wanted him and he was sold for only $200. (Big Cat Rescue stopped paying to rescue animals in the 90s)
Only a year earlier this little lion cub was the picture of health and vitality. His owner made money by selling people the opportunity to have their photograph taken with the cute and cuddly lion cub. In the state of Florida, however, it is against the law to allow contact with a big cat over 45 pounds. So Nakoma’s former owner purposely starved him and deprived him of vitamins to keep him under the weight limit. As a result of this deficiency, Nakoma developed paralysis in his hind legs. Crippled, unwanted and abused, he was found with gaping gashes in his body that had become infested with maggots. Yet despite all this, he was still a very lovable, talkative cub.
Big Cat Rescue took Nakoma into their care. But after a year and a half of proper nutrition and supplements, he was still having an increasingly hard time moving his back legs. It took him two hours just to walk across his pen by dragging himself with his front paws. X-rays, a spinal tap and MRI all came out negative, meaning that Nakoma’s paralysis had most likely been caused by the thiamine deficiency he endured.
On July 12, 1998, during his MRI, Nakoma tragically stopped breathing and died. His quiet passing may have been a blessing in disguise since nothing could be done for his crippled body. In fact, the vets said his condition would have continued to deteriorate until he could not move at all.
Today, Nakoma rests in a grave on the site, adorned with his proud picture. This brave little king will never be forgotten and everybody can take solace in that Big Cat Rescue was at least able to make his last years a little better.
This is what one videographer had to say:
Published on Jul 4, 2012 by Sophiaz123
“Tigers need water to cool off in hot weather. This is a horrid Zoo Safari in Hamilton, Ohio in front of Big Lots on Rt. 4, july 4th, the temperature was 100 degrees and VERY humid. Taken at 5pm. Sorry only 9 seconds. Shot a second video but was shakier than this one. I was very upset and trying to hold it together. I am sure the fan on him feels like a hot blow dryers. Disgusting that this Robert Engesser guy calls himself a “traveling zoo” when it’s nothing but Animal Cruelty Galore. From Chiefland, Florida. Google him yourself. Disturbing. He has a camel, monkeys, goats and wild cats. He keeps his cats in cages like this for MINIMUM of 4 weeks. It can NEVER walk around!! Disgraceful. Tigers need to swim to cool off. I saw no water. The police did nothing when I called them. Powerless they said ????”
USDA License #58-C-0295
P.O. Box 2060,
Chiefland, FL 32644
Robert Engesser’s traveling exhibit, The Zoo, has repeatedly failed to meet minimal federal standards for the care of animals used in exhibition as established in the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). The U.S. Department of
Agriculture (USDA) has cited The Zoo numerous times for failing to provide proper food and water sources and adequate veterinary care, for failing to provide environmental enrichment to primates, for failing to maintain
enclosures and transport trailers, and for poor housekeeping. A leopard from The Zoo attacked a 5-year-old girl, causing injuries. The exhibit has traveled under the names Engesser’s Exotic Felines, Luce Enterprises, and Endangered Species, Inc., in the past.
January 24, 2005: A Hernando Today article about an exotic-animal auction in Florida described Pat Engessor as a big cat breeder who had been in business for “more than 30 years.” Engesser said that she attended the auction with the hope of selling lion cubs to other breeders. Animals sold at such auctions often end up at canned hunts, in the “pet” trade, or at poorly run roadside zoos.
March 1, 2002: The USDA cited The Zoo for allowing children to come into direct contact with animals without supervision during exhibition. For the third time, the USDA cited the facility for failing to develop and implement
an environment enrichment plan for primates. The baboon and a lemur were exhibiting stereotypic behavior.
August 22, 2001: During an inspection, the USDA noted that the baboon’s stereotypic behavior was still not being addressed.
May 24, 2001: The USDA cited The Zoo for failing to provide environment enrichment to a baboon housed alone or to the ring-tailed lemurs. The baboon was seen pacing and head-rolling. A lion cub was being fed an inadequate diet of goat milk replacer. Water containers for the camel and llama were
covered in algae.
August 17, 2000: The Zoo was cited for failing to provide proper veterinary care to a tiger cub suffering from metabolic bone disease due to lack of proper diet and to a leopard with several areas of missing hair.
June 28, 2000: During a complaint- based inspection, the USDA cited The Zoo for failing to provide adequate food to animals.
November 4, 1999: The USDA cited The Zoo for failing to store food to protect against deterioration, mold, or contamination by vermin.
April 30, 1999: The Zoo was cited for keeping a tiger cub in a cage in which he was unable to turn about freely and make normal postural adjustments. The exhibit was again cited for failing to maintain proper veterinary records to document that an underweight elephant was receiving proper medical attention.
January 28, 1999: The USDA cited The Zoo for failing to provide an inclusive program of veterinary care, including measures to prevent zoonosis. A lion cub transmitted ringworm to other animals and a caretaker. The facility was also cited for failing to keep enclosures and food storage areas in good repair. A dead tiger cub was found in the freezer, having died of an unknown (“probably infectious”) respiratory illness.
July 24, 1998: During a complaint- based inspection, the USDA cited The Zoo for failing to maintain enclosures adequate to prevent animals from escaping. The exhibitor was also cited for lack of a proper program of
August 15, 1996: A Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., official wrote to Engesser, instructing him to cease exhibiting animals at Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club locations because this was a violation of their corporate policy.
April 24, 1996: The USDA cited The Zoo for failing to maintain transport enclosures in good repair.
November 7, 1995: The Zoo was cited for improper storage of supplies, for failing to maintain enclosures in good repair, and for a lack of proper water sources for three leopards.
May 20, 1995: In a letter to the owners of The Zoo, the attending veterinarian noted observations that the big cats were overweight and stated that a leopard’s tail had to be amputated.
May 15, 1995: The Zoo was cited for failing to maintain enclosures in order to prevent injury to animals.
March 2, 1995: The USDA cited The Zoo for housing goats, sheep, and llamas in enclosures in which they could not make normal postural adjustments. It was again cited for failing to provide enrichment to a baboon who was constantly pacing and picking at her skin—a sign of zoochosis. There was also no record of veterinary care, and an elephant was observed to be thin.
October 12, 1994: The USDA cited The Zoo for failing to store food in order to prevent contamination and to maintain transport containers in good repair.
June 10, 1994: The Zoo was cited for failing to store food properly to prevent contamination. The baboon was exhibiting stereotypic behavior indicative of zoochosis.
March 8-11, 1994: During this inspection, the USDA cited The Zoo for failing to maintain enclosures in good repair and for failing to store bedding to prevent contamination. A male tiger was noted as underweight and suffering from a lame paw. The Zoo staff was not able to provide records to account for the whereabouts of all animals. Enclosures and perimeter fencing were noted to be inadequate to safely contain animals. The camel’s water source was found to be filled with algae and silt.
February 11, 1994: The USDA cited The Zoo for failing to implement an environment enrichment program for primates, and the lemurs did not have access to a den to which they could retreat from the public. Food was noted to be stored in a manner in which it could become contaminated, and enclosures were noted to be in disrepair.
May 11, 1993: The USDA cited The Zoo for housing lemurs, lions, and tigers in transport containers.
August 9, 1990: According to the Rapid City Journal, a leopard attacked and mauled a 5-year-old girl while on display at the Black Hills Motor Classic in South Dakota. Reportedly, the leopard, who was restrained with a small chain fastened to a box, leaped on the girl’s back as she walked past him.