Plumpton Park Zoo closes in Rising Sun

Owner, 82, faced multiple repairs to facility

August 06, 2010|By Jonathan Pitts, The Baltimore Sun

As Rising Sun residents mourned this week the closure of a beloved local attraction, the 24-year-old Plumpton Park Zoo, records obtained by The Baltimore Sun show that inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture had recently notified owner Ed Plumstead of nearly two dozen potential violations of federal regulations governing animal health and safety.

Among the 21 concerns cited in a June 29 report, an inspector wrote that seven animal enclosures needed repair, a structure housing six bison lacked proper access to water, a monkey cage had insufficient ventilation, and a tiger was living in a keeper's residence on the property.

"That's a lot of [problems], and we take them seriously," said David Sacks, a spokesman for the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which inspected the facility on Telegraph Road again yesterday. "I don't know the details of the [Plumpton Park] situation, but running a zoo is a huge and complex responsibility. Sometimes the best-intentioned [owners] just get overwhelmed."

The report called for all the repairs to be done by July 21 or sooner — improvements that would cost thousands of dollars at a facility that has long relied almost exclusively on admission fees and donations.

At his home on the grounds yesterday, Plumstead, 82, who founded the facility on his family's farm in 1986, said only that he was "too upset to talk." But friends said the duties involved in caring for a menagerie of hundreds of animals had weighed heavily on him in recent years and that Plumstead had been seeking a buyer.

"I think he hung in there as long as he could," said Gordy Johnson, manager of Jon's Exotic Pets in Rising Sun, which sold the zoo mice, rats and crickets as feed. "Ed is a caretaker, a giver by nature. He never wanted to be in the spotlight. For him, it was just, 'come look at my animals.'"

As recently as last year, Plumstead had hired two new caretakers, including a former circus worker, Sloan Damon, and an expert with farm animals, Bernadette Amoroso, according to the Cecil County Observer. Neither could be reached for comment.

Turner, the tourism director, said Plumstead told her he was working with regional zoos, including the Catoctin Wildlife Reserve and Zoo in Thurmont, to find "not just homes, but good homes," for each of the animals, a process he said would take months.

Catoctin spokeswoman June Bellizzi said the zoo's director, Richard Hahn, is a longtime friend of Plumstead's and is already helping him find homes for the animals, mostly at other zoos around the country or at local farms. She didn't know whether the Catoctin facility would take any in.

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

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