Animal activists fight to shut down sloth exhibit in Hauppauge

HAUPPAUGE, Long Island (WABC) — Animal activists are fighting to shut down an exhibit on Long Island that features sloths, but the man running the experiment says the animals are being well cared for.

Sloth Encounter in Hauppauge has been cited for several permit violations, as well as reports of animals biting people.

Sloths are slow-moving mammals found naturally in the rainforests of Central and South America, but now they’re on display inside a building in Suffolk County.

“People can interact with them,” said animal scientist Larry Wallach, who runs Sloth Encounters. “They hold the babies they have to feed and they have a great time.”

His exhibit, which costs $50 for adults and $25 for children for half an hour, is operating illegally, according to the Islip town supervisor.

The business, located on the Veterans Memorial Highway, has been repeatedly condemned to the city for reasons including a lack of fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide detectors.

These have been resolved, but what remains an issue is a change of use violation without a permit.

The building was converted in the spring from a swimming pool supply business and still operates with this permit rather than wildlife possession.

Sloth Encounter has a Suffolk County Petting Zoo Permit.

“These animals belong to the wild nature of Costa Rica,” said John Di Leonardo, anthropologist and president of Humane Long Island. “They don’t want to be touched, they don’t want to be detained, and they just don’t belong in Suffolk County.”

He said the seven sloths – five adults and two babies – were being exploited, and he filed several complaints with the United States Department of Agriculture. It demands its closure after claiming that five people, including a child, were bitten there.

“I spoke to the parents of a child who told me that Larry had told them there had been three other bites before that, and we have since heard from a witness that another person had been bitten ever since,” he said.

Wallach says he’s never abused sloths, but bites are always a risk.

“They are animals,” he said. “People can get bitten. They don’t have rabies. If you have a dog or a snake or a lizard, we all have pets, at some point someone bites us. That’s part of from having pets.”

Wallach has until Aug. 29 to show the proper permit or the city could sue him.

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