NORMAN — More than four months after law enforcement removed more than 300 animals from abusive conditions at a Norman farm, many of the once-malnourished and mistreated animals are beginning to heal and thrive in sanctuaries and zoos across the region.
At the end of April, Norman police raided a farm on East Rock Creek Road after noticing malnourished horses on the property that had resorted to eating tree bark. The farm’s owners, Aaron Stachmus and Bryson Anglin, and Mark Wayne Parker, a man they hired to care for the animals, face 18 counts of animal cruelty in Cleveland County Court.
Additionally, police found more than 300 animals — many of them exotic species, like the 17 lemurs, 12 camels and five kangaroos — kept without proper access to medical care or food.
In the months since, the animals have found new homes with qualified care.
Four Egyptian fruit bats are settling in at Bat World Sanctuary, a North Texas organization that provides a lifetime home to bats that were abused or mistreated.
The four bats from Norman weren’t in bad physical condition when they came to Bat World, but sanctuary founder and president Amanda Lollar said they’re some of the most frightened bats the sanctuary has received.
Lollar said while the bats are “not in completely horrible shape,” she learned through a sanctuary that helped care for them that at the raided Norman farm, “their caging was absolutely deplorable — it was enough to make you want to cry.”
Lollar said this group of bats included a fifth bat, a baby, who didn’t survive a transfer to a local Oklahoma facility.
“We do a lot of rescue from the ‘cool, exotic pet trade’ and laboratory research and everything, and I have to say, these bats are more frightened than any other bats we’ve ever rescued,” Lollar said. “They just want to stay in a corner and huddle up.”
Reason for removal
By the time law enforcement seized the animals from the Rock Creek farm, the city had been working with Stachmus and Anglin for a year to relocate some of their exotic animals that weren’t allowed in city limits.
When asked why the city waited a year to begin seizing animals and shutting down the operation, Norman police spokesperson Sarah Jensen said when Animal Welfare Officers were last at the farm in 2020, “the condition of the animals was not in a state that warranted removal.”
Animals appeared healthy at that point — the issue the city found at that time was that the farm was housing exotic animals not allowed on the property by city ordinances and state law, she said.
“Once the farm began being issued citations in 2020, the owners no longer allowed Animal Welfare Officers on the property,” Jensen said in a statement. “Animal Welfare Officers did not have adequate reason to obtain a search warrant until the sighting from the roadway this April that initiated the search warrant, investigation and eventual seizure of the animals. In addition, veterinarian care following seizure showed inadequate shelter during times of inclement weather, such as the ice storm, resulted in further deterioration of the animals’ condition.”
While the seized animals initially went into city custody and were cared for by a local organization, Jensen confirmed all of them “have been relocated for permanent placement in sanctuaries and rescues across the state.”
The animals’ new caretakers are now working to accommodate them at their new homes.
The Oklahoma City Zoo took in two bat-eared foxes, two African bullfrogs and three radiated tortoises. The zoo believes they’ll fit into Expedition Africa, a planned exhibit slated to open in 2023, said Dr. Jennifer D’Agostino, the zoo’s director of Veterinary Services.
The zoo rarely takes in animals from situations like this one, D’Agostino said. Zoos primarily focus on conservation and preservation, she said, and don’t want to breed animals with unknown backgrounds.
“Whenever these animals are in a situation like that, we don’t really know what their genetics are, so we don’t know if they’ve been inbred,” she said. “We really carefully manage our populations to protect genetic diversity for long term sustainability of the populations and care. and so oftentimes those animals that are in those types of situations, we don’t always want to bring them into a breeding situation, just because we don’t know their pedigree or their background and we don’t want to decrease our genetic diversity.”
The zoo won’t breed the male and female fox pair since it’s unclear whether they’re related, D’Agostino said, but still believed this was the right time to take in all seven because they’ll fit into the exhibit.
Bat World has more than 80 fruit bats right now, rescued out of everything from roadside zoos to home hoarding situations, Lollar said. Bats need socialization and enrichment and suffer loneliness, nutritional problems and boredom when kept as pets. Their natural lifespans of more than 20 years can shorten to less than one year, Lollar said.
The four Norman bats all seem relatively young — one of the females appears less than a year old, Lollar said. The bats were kept in quarantine — they arrived at Bat World relatively recently — but the sanctuary’s Instagram account shows that on Sunday, they joined the rest of the sanctuary’s population to live out their lives in a massive indoor-outdoor enclosure.
The four bats — two males and two females — don’t yet have names, Lollar said. She said the sanctuary likes to see a bat’s personality before naming it, and these bats haven’t quite come out of their shells.
The zoo is waiting to name the foxes until caretakers learn more about them, D’Agostino said.