Brown’s Oakridge Zoo is a privately-owned backyard menagerie, big cat breeder, and cub-petting operation in rural Smithfield, Illinois. They don’t have the publicity of some exploiters, but they’re every bit as bad, in our opinion, and the sad part is that nearby residents, news reporters, and even local governments and businesses have been duped into thinking that they’re a wonderful place!

This private zoo was started in the 1990s after Nancy and Ivan Brown bought an old dairy farm and started filling the property with exotic animals. “I said we’d have just about anything and everything I wanted, not knowing that it would go to this extent, and then we started rescuing animals,” Nancy told news reporters in an interview.

Brown’s Oakridge Zoo is not a legitimate sanctuary, as they regularly breed, buy, and sell lions, tigers, leopards, and other exotic wildlife. As of 2016, 152 lion and tiger cubs have been bred and reared at the zoo. One disgusted visitor described it as “a puppy mill for endangered animals.” The newborn cubs are removed from their mothers at as young as 2 days after birth and hand raised in the Brown’s home. Nancy Brown claims that she has to do this because “oftentimes the mother will stop caring for her young” and that every cub they’ve raised was “abandoned” and then “rescued” by the zoo.

The tiny cubs are then taken around the state to visit fairs, businesses, schools, nursing facilities, and even private homes, where the public is encouraged to hold, feed, and take unlimited photos with the babies for a fee. The zoo claims that they “don’t exploit animals”, but they’ve dragged tiger cubs through the streets in a wire cage as part of a local homecoming parade, and offer cub-petting on their property in an effort to bring in more visitors. They also pimp out cubs for professional photo shoots.  The cubs are also allowed to come into direct contact with other animals, such as dogs, pigs, and domestic cats, presenting a huge risk of zoonotic disease transmission. Most of the cubs are only handled until they reach the USDA’s maximum age of 12 weeks, but occasionally, cubs may be used longer than is legal, as the zoo has written on Facebook that “we base it on the animal’s temperament” and that ” all interaction is based on the individual animals disposition not just federal regulations.”

Photos taken at the zoo show petting practices that are extremely dangerous for both the cubs and the visitors: large, unrestrained tiger cubs placed in the laps of toddlers, lion cubs placed next to human babies, and children dangling cubs in the air. Cubs are frequently allowed to come into contact with other animals, such as dogs, pigs, and domestic cats, presenting a huge risk of zoonotic disease transmission, and some of them have large open sores on their noses from rubbing against cage bars.

Once the cubs can no longer be used as photo props, most of them disappear into the exotic animal trade without a trace.

Brown’s Oakridge Zoo has placed ads in the exotic animal trade journal Animal Finder’s Guide. One of their ads read: “FREE: one year old female Siberian tiger, one-year-old male black bear, five-year-old neutered and declawed black bear. All animals have been in petting zoo and are good natured.” One of their black bear cubs was sold to Clark’s Trading Post, a roadside attraction in New Hampshire where bears perform circus tricks. In this article, Nancy claims that she sells her cubs to “someone starting a facility or needing a replacement animal”, and in another, she explains that she has a waiting list of potential buyers for her cubs, because exploiters like to use animals that have been habituated to humans in petting zoos.

Kovu and Kiara, a pair of lion cubs which the Browns claim to have “rescued” from another facility in the early 1990s, were used for breeding, and produced at least 11 photo prop cubs which were later sold. One of the cubs, “Romeo,” born in 2007, was sold in advance to notorious Hollywood animal trainer Sid Yost, who picked up the cub shortly after its birth in order to hand raise him. Yost has a long record of severe animal welfare act violations and is known for using physical violence to “train” his animals. Undercover investigators saw trainers at Yost’s company frequently punching, kicking, and hitting young chimps with a sawed-off broom handle, and in 2009, the USDA cited Yost for repeatedly beating his big cats, including Romeo, with a metal rod called a “pig stick”.  In 2012, citing severe abuse and a “lack of good faith”, the USDA even attempted to revoke Yost’s license.

In 2014, Brown’s Oakridge Zoo was fined $3,571 by the USDA for severe and repeated Animal Welfare Act violations, one of which resulted in the death of an animal.

According to the report, “APHIS observed animals having only frozen water to drink, drinking from muddy water pooled on water-saturated ground, and watering bowls that were dirty and empty.” In 2013, they were cited for failing to provide veterinary care to a kangaroo with a broken leg. Inspectors wrote “although the attending veterinarian was contacted by phone, no veterinary care was provided and the animal died.” The same report also cited the zoo for housing lion cubs and cougars in rain-flooded enclosures where it was “impossible for them to get out of the mud.”

Like most private exhibitors, Brown’s Oakridge Zoo attempts to justify what they do by telling the public that they’re breeding for “conservation”, that using cubs as photo props is “educational,” that their cubs were “abandoned”, and that exploiting cubs is an appropriate “fundraiser” to help the zoo afford to care for their animals. And although they often claim that their zoo is a nonprofit organization, they are not registered as a 501(c)(3) under that name.

Brown’s Oakridge Zoo has typical backyard breeder conditions — tarps, splintered plywood, concrete, mud, etc.

I also recommend you scroll through the “zoo’s” Facebook feed to see what they’re about — it’s a constant stream of “come see the cubs,” anti PETA/HSUS propaganda, and the occasional reposted content from Lynn Culver’s “Feline Conservation Federation” about how pet tigers never harm anyone and unfettered private breeding “saves the species.”

Nancy Brown’s personal feed isn’t much better — a lot of anti-USDA/BCR garbage, posts from other exotic pet owners (like Joe Schreibvogel Maldonado), and photos of tiger cubs being treated like dress-up dolls — in between posts about how much she, and other private zoo owners, “love” animals.

Visitors to Brown’s Oakridge Zoo are absolutely prohibited from taking videos on the property, but we were still able to find a few:

This is some raw video a local news organization shot.

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It shows a lot of pacing, since the enclosures lack any kind of enrichment for the cats. At 2:26, Nancy casually hands a tiny, screaming black leopard cub to someone in the news crew, with nothing more than a “don’t drop her.” Since small children are allowed to hold cubs with little supervision, it’s a good bet that cubs have been dropped before.

Here’s a puff piece another news organization did at one of their popular cub-petting events.  A 9-week-old lion cub was passed around like a toy for photo after photo as a “fundraiser to help feed the animals.”

Here’s a video tourists to the zoo took during a paid “encounter” with a squirming leopard cub. Nancy tells the visitors that the cub was hand raised since it was 3 days old, and that she lets her dogs “play” with the cubs “all the time.”

Here you can see some videos the Browns filmed in their backyard.  Have you ever heard a lion cub make such a painful noise before? …could she be screaming for her mother?

See photos and download documents of the mistreatment here:

Download the   2014 USDA fine against Brown’s Oakridge Zoo.


2014 USDA citations

Brown’s Oakridge Zoo has been in the press several times doing things that no respectable zoo would do; such as

1.  Pimping out lion cubs as pay to play photo props

2.  Inbreeding tigers to create genetically unviable white coats

3.  Inbreeding that resulted in the death of the mother tiger


Here are the stories, which are usually presented by the unwitting press as fluff pieces.


A lion in your holiday plans could help feed animals at the zoo


MACOMB, ILL. — The king of the jungle became a holiday photo mainstay in Macomb.


The Lakewood Lodge along with Brown’s Oakridge Zoo gave families a chance to take Christmas photos with a lion cub for a zoo fundraiser.


Hundreds of people gave a visit to the Lakewood Lodge in Macomb, looking to get a closer look at the nine-week-old lion cub, Nala. Nala is an African lioness from Brown’s Oakridge Zoo in Smithfield, Illinois.


The Holiday Safari Open House is a fundraiser for the zoo to help maintain their animals over the winter when the zoo is closed. Families could donate ten dollars to have their picture taken with Nala. The money would go towards paying for the food for the animals.


Doctor Chuck Lotz is the owner of Lakewood Lodge and is the veterinarian for this zoo.


“It is a good fundraiser for the zoo. Plus it allows the kids to see the animals and Nancy and Ivan that run the zoo, Nancy and Ivan Brown are just very knowledgeable. They do an excellent job,” Lotz said.


Brown’s Oakridge Zoo is open from the first of May until the end of October. It is the only family owned zoo in the state of Illinois.


Brown Zoo Tigress Dies Giving Birth to Inbred White Cub


When a white Siberian tiger cub was born at Brown’s Oakridge Zoo in rural Smithfield, it was a day of both joy and sadness.

Bogdan was born, but his mother died of complications from the birth.

Even though tiger cubs have an 80 percent mortality rate, zoo owners Ivan and Nancy Brown say their 14-week old tiger cub is doing well and weighs nearly 40 pounds.

Nancy explains Blogdan has brought a lot of joy to hundreds of people who visit the zoo because they have always wanted to pet a white tiger. “We have fulfilled a lot of bucket lists,” she explains.

Bogdan is also making a name for himself in Chicago where he has modeled for a line of men’s jewelry, says Nancy.

In this photo, a heart shape is seen on Bogdan’s back just behind his neck. Nancy explains the photo was submitted by a fan of Bogdan’s who has visited him five times already.

Nancy says she believes the heart shape mark in his fur was given to him by his mother who wanted him to remember her.

Nancy calls Bogdan very special and a miracle. “He is a blessing to us. In the wild he would have died,” explains Nancy of her precious gift.

Visitors to the zoo can see Blogdan during winter hours.

The zoo is located southwest of Smithfield, Ill., at 17732 N. Dairy Farm Road. After Labor Day, the zoo is open on weekends from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturday and from noon until 4 p.m. on Sunday. Appointments are taken from those wishing to the visit the zoo during the week.


If the Brown Zoo doesn’t know how inhumane it is to inbreed tigers to get white cubs, they should be shut down.


Inbreeding at Brown’s Oakridge Zoo Results in White Tiger

SMITHFIELD – There is big news at Brown’s Oakridge Zoo.

A white Siberian male tiger cub was born at the zoo on Sept. 8. The cub has been named Bogdan which means “Gift of God” in Russian.

At birth, Bogdan weighed a mere 1.5 pounds. Now, he weighs in at 6 pounds and has a good appetite.

White tiger cubs typically have an 80 percent mortality rate, so the celebration of this new addition is especially great for zoo owners Nancy and Ivan Brown.

“He is a blessing to us. In the wild he would have died,” explains Nancy of her precious gift.

The zoo has the only white Siberian tiger exhibit in the state of Illinois and has been the only family-operated zoo in the state for the last 21 years.

Nancy explains the sad part of the story is that the cub’s mother died, due to complications of the birth. A second tiger cub was stillborn. “That makes him (Bogdan) very special to us,” remarks Brown, who said it was remarkable that he went to a bottle within six hours of his birth. Bogdan will not be able to see until he is about six weeks old and the Brown’s are anxious to see if his eyes remain blue, or turn to brown just like his mother’s eyes.

Most people think a white tiger is a Siberian, but that is not accurate, says Nancy. Subspecies of tigers can also be white in color.

“The white tiger started years ago with a white tiger being captured in the wild and brought into captivity in India,” says Nancy, who has done her homework.

That tiger “Mohan” was bred to his daughters, grand daughters, nieces, and so on, explains Brown of the linage. With such a long line of inter-breeding, there is an 80 percent mortality rate in the cubs which also can suffer with scoliosis and respiratory problems. “We are fortunate to have a healthy cub. There have been no other white tigers found in the wild since Mohan,” Nancy emphasizes. She explains experts in the field expect wild tigers to be extinct in a generation. There are less than 200 Siberian tigers in the wild, currently.

The Browns have raised exotic animals at their rural location for over 30 years. “We have rescued quite a few animals over the years from various situations,” says Nancy. The zoo, family owned and operated since 1990, started out with a single pot-bellied pig and a few whittle deer.

The zoo currently has an expectant lion and leopard. Nancy says the cubs will be born this fall.

Currently, the zoo has over 40 different species of animals – some are endangered species. Visitors can find lions, tiger, bears, leopards, cougars, bobcats, wolves, a kangaroo, and much more.

Zoo animals are feed approximately 150-200 pounds of meat per day, 50 pounds of dog food, 50 pounds of grain, 100 pounds of hay, and other specialty feeds for some of the animals.

The zoo is located southwest of Smithfield, Ill., at 17732 N. Dairy Farm Rd. Hours are 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon until 4 p.m. on Sunday. The zoo opens on May 1 and continues those hours until Labor Day.

After Labor Day, the zoo is open on weekends from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Saturday and from noon until 4 p.m. on Sunday. Appointments are taken from those wishing to the visit the zoo during the week.

During Spoon River Scenic Drive on Oct. 1, 2, 8 and 9, the zoo will be open from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. Visitors will be allowed to feed the big cats, bears, and hoof-stock animals. They can also have their photo taken with Bogdan the new white Siberian tiger cub.

Nancy says, “We have turned our home and land into a place where we can promote and help to insure the future existence of animals, some of which are endangered. We are dedicated to the animals and want to provide them with a safe place to live in a stress-free environment. Our work is a labor of love and we truly love what we do.”

In addition, the Browns say they just want to bring happiness to their visitors.

The Browns have learned through hands-on experience and have studied to keep abreast of information on their animals.

The zoo is visited by people from throughout the United States each year. Some tell Brown they are fulfilling a lifelong dream to see a certain species, or to pet a wild animal. No matter what the reason, Brown has many interesting stories to tell about her animals and their visitors.

The zoo is solely supported by admission, photo fees, and donations. The zoo travels with offsite exhibits to schools, nursing homes, libraries, camps, birthday parties, business promotions, and provides educational programs throughout the state.