The Little Rock Zoo

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ex-Chimpanzee Owner, Sid Yost, Had Another Animal Bite

Photo: Doug Larson
Sid Yost scratches "Timber," an 8-month-old giant malamute wolf, while talking to the crowd after a show Wednesday night at Grizzly Jack's Grand Bear Lodge in Utica. Yost said he and fellow trainers, Matt Martin and Toree Arntz, use "affection training" with animals. Another wolf-giant malamute was put down several days ago after attacking a 2-year-old girl during a show Saturday.

04/09/2009, 10:42 pm
Dan Churney,, 815-431-4050
The handler of a wolf that attacked a child Saturday during a show at Grizzly Jack's Grand Bear Lodge in Utica has been in trouble a number of times with federal authorities in connection with his handling of animals.

On Tuesday, the Virginia-based animal rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture to investigate the incident in which the leashed wolf bit a 2-year-old Ladd girl on her face and neck, as well as elsewhere on her body. The girl was treated and released at Illinois Valley Community Hospital in Peru; the wolf was euthanized so brain tissue samples could be sent for rabies testing.

The wolf was part of a show put on by Amazing Animal Productions, a California-based company that provides animal actors for films, television shows and other similar work. The show began at the lodge March 20 for a three-week run and is set to end Sunday. The owner of Amazing Animal Productions is 54-year-old Sidney J. Yost, who was the wolf's handler Saturday when the wolf bit the girl.

Court and government records, as supplied by PETA and otherwise obtained by The Times, give the following history for Yost:

  • In March 2008, the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited Amazing Animal Productions for unsafe handling of a lion during an appearance on NBC Television's "The Tonight Show." Yost had a lion on a leash in the presence of the public during a taping of the show. The USDA said a leash does not constitute a barrier and there is risk to the safety of the public when a leash is the only restraint in use. Amazing Animal Productions also was cited for failing to provide adequate space to a lynx that was in an enclosure of "inadequate size and design," with the enclosure not allowing the lynx to make "normal postural adjustments, such as standing on rear feet" and that the animal was "showing signs of stress, such as constant pacing." The USDA also cited the company for a number of other noncompliance issues involving adequate shelter for a squirrel, failure to have a sufficient fence around enclosures for a tiger, red fox and monkey, to prevent humans and other animals from having contact with the animals, as well as failing to provide food to animals in a manner that ensures the food is not contaminated and necessary nutrients are provided. Also, citations were issued regarding inadequate sanitation for squirrel and monkey enclosures and for housing a rabbit and a primate in the same primary enclosure.
  • On Aug. 29, 2006, the USDA cited the company for not providing handles or handholds on a chimpanzee transport enclosure in order to allow the enclosure to be moved easily in case of emergency. The company was cited for failure to provide adequate veterinary care when it could not provide documentation a 6-year-old chimpanzee was receiving preventive care prescribed in the facility’s written program of veterinary care. "With a primate, such as this chimpanzee, many bacteria, viruses, and parasites can be shared with human beings and vice versa. This chimp is used in exhibition work (in which) it interacts (with) and touches human beings. Therefore, (preventive) vaccinations and appropriate diagnostic testing ... are essential for the protection of both the chimp and the humans." Amazing Animal Productions also was cited for failure to provide adequate environmental enhancement for a chimpanzee that was housed in isolation while traveling for several days at a time.
  • On Aug. 14, 2006, the USDA cited Amazing Animal Productions for failure to provide an adequately ventilated enclosure to transport chimpanzees, failure to maintain a current written program of veterinary care, failure to provide a permanent primary enclosure for a tethered dog and failure to provide a veterinarian-approved environmental enhancement plan for primates.
  • On July 12, 2005, the USDA cited Yost's company for failure to provide environmental enhancement to promote the psychological well-being of primates. It was unclear if modifications to the environmental enrichment plan were approved by the veterinarian, and the schedule provided during the inspection did not reflect the actual enrichment being provided to the animals.
  • On March 3, 2004, the USDA cited the company for failure to properly handle dangerous animals used for public exhibition. The USDA said, "There is no documentation of the knowledge and experience of (the) employees to allow for the determination that they have sufficient knowledge and experience to ensure the safety of the animals and the public." The inspector also notified Amazing Animal Productions it was prohibited from using a chimpanzee with a history of biting, as well as two large adult exotic cats in situations involving potential public contact.
  • In 2003 in California, Yost pleaded no contest to possessing a prohibited species — a bear — and was sentenced to 20 days actual time in jail, to three years of probation and to pay a fine of $1,600.
  • In 2002 in California, Yost pleaded no contest to illegal possession of a lion cub. The California Department of Fish and Game confiscated the cub. Yost was fined $1,000 and put on three years of probation.
  • In March 2003, for bankruptcy fraud, Yost was sentenced to two years of probation, 180 days home detention, to perform 100 hours of community service and undergo treatment for drug or alcohol dependency.
  • On July 24, 2001, the USDA cited Yost's company for failure to handle chimpanzees in a way that minimizes the risk of harm to the animals and the public and failure to provide the required itinerary to enable an animal welfare inspection for animals used in filming. The USDA said, "Both chimps exhibited by licensee have documented incidents of biting members of the public. The older chimp in Tennessee in 2000 and the younger chimp in Simi Valley, (Calif.) in April 2001. The fact that bites occurred indicates that exhibition was not done in such a way as to minimize risk to the public and demonstrates a violation of regulations." The inspector also noted violations identified during a July 17, 2001, inspection had not been corrected.
  • On July 17, 2001, the USDA cited Yost's company for failure to correct a previously identified noncompliance of not providing minimum space to chimpanzees stored in a transport vehicle. The company also was cited for failure to have an adequate environmental enhancement plan to promote the psychological well-being of primates and failure to provide primates with a veterinarian-approved diet.
  • On April 22, 2001, according to a Ventura County California Animal Bite Record, a 2 1/2-year-old male chimpanzee named Mr. P belonging to Sid Yost was ordered to be quarantined for 30 days after lunging at and biting a 12-year-old boy on the hand.
  • On Sept. 12, 2000, the USDA cited Yost's company for failure to have a complete program of veterinary care and failure to provide minimum space to chimpanzees stored in a transport vehicle, and failure to have adequate ventilation in a shipping container for a chimpanzee.
  • On April 9, 2000, Yost, also known as Ranger Rick Kelly, took a chimpanzee named Angel to a Blockbuster Video in Franklin, Tenn., to promote a "Critter Gitter" movie. The chimp bit a 9-year-old girl on the hand after posing for a photograph. Yost left the state before the chimpanzee could be quarantined and was issued a citation for violating Tennessee’s exotic animal law. Yost failed to appear in court and never paid the fine. The girl’s parents filed a $50,000 lawsuit against Yost, Critter Gitters and Blockbuster, claiming the defendants should have been aware of the danger inherent in subjecting a chimp to a crowded area with so many children. The USDA fined Yost $2,000 for violations associated with this incident.
  • On Nov. 19, 1999, in a federal district bankruptcy court in Florida, Yost was ordered to pay $20,000 and interest to settle a bankruptcy proceeding related to Lifestyles Vacation Travel Club, co-owned by Yost.
  • On June 18, 1999, the USDA cited Yost's company for failure to have a program of veterinary care, failure to provide documentation of experience and qualifications to exhibit animals to the public in direct-contact situations and failure to have an environmental enhancement program to promote the psychological well-being of primates.
  • On Aug. 1, 1998 the USDA cited Yost's company for exhibiting a chimpanzee at Gatorland Zoo in Florida without a valid USDA exhibitor license.
The Times spoke by phone with a spokesman for Yost's company Monday morning. On Monday afternoon and Wednesday morning, The Times left follow-up phone messages at the company.

James White, a California attorney representing Yost, returned the messages late Wednesday morning, saying Yost has been the target of an "ongoing smear campaign" by well-financed animal rights groups, with their effort stemming from Yost's work with chimpanzees. These groups oppose the use of chimpanzees in films and similar productions.

White went on to say Yost "absolutely denies" any accusations he has abused animals.

"He loves his animals," White said of Yost.

White further said the USDA continues to issue animal permits to Yost, which indicates their satisfaction with his care of his animals.

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