The agency can issue fines of up to $10,000 per violation, suspend an animal exhibitor's license, or permanently revoke it.
The zoo was inspected more frequently than normal last year because its record of violations indicated it was a facility "we need to keep a close watch on," said David Sacks, a USDA spokesman. Animal Kingdom received 11 visits and was cited for 50 violations and infractions in 2012.
The reports paint a picture of the roadside zoo as a facility that continues to improperly care for its animals and does not maintain security and sanitation standards.
The zoo was founded in 1988 by Burton Sipp, a racehorse trainer who began collecting exotic animals as a hobby after he was charged with racing rules violations at tracks in five states. Sipp had his racing and training licenses suspended in Pennsylvania and revoked in New Jersey, but he continues to race in other states.
The zoo amassed more than 200 citations in the last 12 years, many for animal neglect and facility maintenance issues. The alleged infractions were exaggerations of "very minor problems," Sipp said in an August interview.
Since then, he has declined to be interviewed by The Inquirer.
After two devastating fires on the 38-acre property in six months, Sipp said that he planned to sell Animal Kingdom. His wife, Bridget, had died in the couple's house when it went up in flames April 11, 2011. On Oct. 30, 2011, a blaze in the barn and pet store killed 24 animals - a mother and baby giraffe, 15 parrots, four cats, and three dogs. Both fires were ruled accidental.
Seven giraffes survived the second fire and were relocated to Six Flags Great Adventure in Jackson Township, N.J., while their quarters were rebuilt. Three died shortly afterward, but the others returned to Animal Kingdom in September. The gentle creatures, visible from the country road, had been the stars of the zoo, and a homecoming gala was planned.
"Our giraffes are back!" Animal Kingdom's website announced.
Christopher Basner, a lawyer from Haddonfield, briefly took over the zoo in October after negotiating a two-year lease-purchase agreement with Sipp. His wife, Anne Butler, a veterinarian who owns a Haddon Heights pet clinic, said she had begun to examine the animals and was having to create the animals' health histories from scratch.
Prior to the couple's arrival, inspectors had repeatedly cited the zoo for its failure to have a veterinary program.
Animal Kingdom now has 20 monkeys, nine spotted hyenas, six scimitar-horned oryx, two red kangaroos, one red fox, three prehensile-tailed porcupines, two llamas, and two Patagonian cavies among its collection of 106 animals.
Basner, who declined to divulge what he had agreed to pay Sipp, said he pursued the agreement after falling in love with the giraffes. But after three weeks, he terminated the contract.
Inspectors from a variety of federal and state agencies and a nonprofit animal-protection group had descended on the facility and ordered repairs and corrective actions, he said in an e-mail last week.
He called it quits, he said, after a representative of an agency he would not specify "threatened to file criminal charges against me if the heater in the giraffe barn was not in operation" within three days after the deficiency was found.
Neither Basner nor his wife returned calls for comment last week. A zoo employee said Basner had been "overwhelmed" by the responsibilities of maintaining the zoo while holding another full-time job.
Last month, with the zoo again Sipp's responsibility, one of the giraffes had to be euthanized after it was found in the barn too weak to stand, according to the USDA inspection report released Thursday. The report cited Sipp again for failing to provide veterinary care.
Sacks said the animal was a female about 10 years old. He did not know whether a necropsy had been ordered.
In 2002, five emaciated giraffes died at the zoo, according to citations.
Visits in December found several other animals with health problems and wounds that had not been treated, the latest report said.
USDA inspectors discovered that two four-month-old hyenas had escaped through a hole in their cage in late December and run into the street where one was struck and killed by a vehicle. During the fall, three adult hyenas dug their way out of their pen, another report noted. They were recaptured without incident.
After previous USDA investigations, Sipp was issued warnings that were lifted when violations were corrected, Sacks said. In 2008, he also was fined $459 for veterinary care and maintenance issues.
The USDA spokesman could not say what actions might result from the recent violations. "These things have to run their course," he said.
Springfield Mayor Denis McDaniel said last week that he had not heard about the animals that got away and planned to look into the matter.
"Zoos are great," he said, "but we don't want to have a zoo that has escapees."
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