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Horrible Zoo Inside Iowa Shopping Mall To Close Amid Protests

It's hard to imagine a more inappropriate place to keep large animals cooped up in captivity as living curiosities than in a suburban shopping mall, but for years one private zoo in Iowa has been doing just that.

Fortunately, however, thanks to protests, they won't be doing it much longer.

Despite its name, the Academy of Wildlife Education amounts to little more than an animal peep show at the Merle Hay Mall, in Des Moines. The zoo houses bears, wolves, bobcats and other animals in sparse, artificially lit enclosures in a storefront where one might otherwise find a clothing shop or Apple store.

Since opening in the mall four years ago, the ‘academy' has been charging guests to see its animal exhibits, purporting to serve some educational benefit. Critics, however, see the zoo much differently - as a blatant cruelty.

Last month, the petition-merle-hay-mall-zoo/12121405/">Des Moines Register reported about an online a petition to "stop the zoo", which has since gathered nearly 75,000 signatures. At the time, the zoo's operator defended the business by saying, basically, that animals are suppose to have it rough.

"Animal rights people have got this idea that it's ‘Kumbaya' out there in the wild. It's violent. It's survival of the fittest," curator Ron DeArmond said. "It's like Obamacare in here. They get care and feeding and don't have to do anything for it."

No doubt thanks to the mounting pressure from protesters, the Academy of Wildlife Education has since announced that it plans to shutter the zoo this fall, relocating the animals to a proposed outdoor wildlife park where they can live more freely.

For Rita Mason, who launched the petition, the move comes as welcome news, though there are still some lingering concerns about the animals' well-being in the meantime.

"[DeArmond] was smug in not hearing our concerns. He would call us radicals," she says. "It makes me feel good."