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Long Island's sloth petting zoo accused of mistreating animals, Humane Society reports

A young sloth
Bruna Prado
/
AP
A young sloth

The Humane Society of the United States has accused Sloth Encounters, located in Islip, of mistreating its animals.

The business offers educational experiences, where customers can pay to interact with a variety of animals, including sloths, capybaras and kangaroos. Customers can pay $50 to spend a half hour holding, feeding and petting one of the businesses' seven sloths.

The animal rights organization began an undercover investigation in November and found evidence of staff hitting sloths with water bottles, sloths being kept in cramped and stressful conditions, sloths fighting and staff handling the sloths roughly.

In December, the Humane Society submitted a 10-page investigative report to the Department of Agriculture accusing the business of being in violation of the federal Animal Welfare Act. The act sets regulations for the care and wellbeing of certain animals commonly found in exhibitions and research setting.

"Our investigator documented how deplorable this operation is and the extent of abuse for profit," said Brian Shapiro, the New York state director of the Human Society of the United States. "Sloths are shy, nocturnal, tree-dwelling animals uniquely unsuited for public interactions, yet they are being subjected to stressful handling by strangers almost daily. This is a sloth’s worst nightmare."

Shapiro later called Larry Wallach, the owner of Sloth Encounters, a "serial offender" of the regulations detailed in the Animal Welfare Act.

The report states that Wallach has a lengthy history of violating the act. According to the report, "Between 2010 and 2023, the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited Wallach 28 times for AWA violations, including causing sloths trauma and stress, unsafe handling that led to a member of the public being injured by a sloth, keeping animals in infested and cluttered conditions and providing false information to inspectors."

Wallach was previously involved in a lawsuit with the Town of Islip, in which the town alleged that his business was illegal. In July 2023, the Suffolk County Supreme Court held Wallach in civil contempt and ordered him to cease business operations until he obtains the necessary approvals from the town. He was ordered to pay a fine of $250 for every day the business remained open without the proper approvals. Town spokeswoman Caroline Smith said Wednesday that the fines have yet to be paid and are still being accrued.

The Town of Islip released a statement on Tuesday stating that they are outraged and will be making efforts to see that Wallach is held accountable.

"We share in the outrage of the community regarding the inhumane treatment of these animals, and remain steadfast in our commitment to seeking the enforcement of any and all penalties permissible under the town’s jurisdiction. We will be returning to court once again, and will not waiver in our efforts to see Mr. Wallach held accountable for these actions," the statement said.

Bill Rodrigues is a graduate intern at WSHU.