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What of the lions, tigers and owls? Wildlife Waystation in Angeles forest is closing

Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- California state officials on Tuesday said the long-struggling Wildlife Waystation in the Angeles National Forest is shutting down for good, and the center is collaborating with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife to relocate more than 470 exotic animals including lions, tigers, alligators, wolves, owls and 42 chimpanzees.

On Aug. 11, the board of directors of the 43-year-old animal sanctuary voted to shutter the facility, surrender its CDFW permits and assist in finding new homes for its creatures with local and national animal welfare organizations across the nation, said Jordan Traverso, a spokeswoman for the agency.

"Some animals will be moving out as early as tomorrow," Traverso said Tuesday, "but it's going to be a long process because there are so many, and some of them are old and in primary care."

Deanna Armbruster, a spokeswoman for the 160-acre Wildlife Waystation, was unavailable for comment. But Traverso said the facility, located just outside Los Angeles city limits, suffered extensive damage in the 2017 Creek fire near Tujunga, followed by severe flooding earlier this year.

"Wildlife Waystation leadership is unable to repair the facility to current standards," she said.

For two decades, federal, state and Los Angeles County animal welfare authorities have been scrutinizing the waystation, one of the largest of its kind, for alleged environmental and animal-safety violations.

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At the center of the crisis is Martine Colette, the waystation's founder, who resigned in May as president and chief operating officer.

The executive shakeup was followed by a terse statement by the waystation, suggesting that the facility's troubles extended beyond the care and housing of injured and abandoned exotic animals.

"The Board is conducting a comprehensive review of the fiscal and other impacts of non-approved and non-authorized activities and transactions by staff," the board of directors said in a statement. It added that staff were "planning and executing activities unbeknownst and unauthorized" to the board, a claim that could not be immediately verified.

Over the years, Colette, a dedicated animal welfare advocate, charmed Hollywood celebrities such as Bruce Willis, Will Smith and Drew Barrymore into opening their wallets for her cause. For years, the waystation filled a need by taking in animals abandoned from private collections and roadside attractions, such as lions and tigers, as well as many other injured and orphaned animals, and housing them until they found a home.

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