The zoo days are over in Moapa, at least for now.
Clark County code inspectors have shut down the popular Roos-N-More animal attraction in the town 55 miles north of Las Vegas.
The 3-acre zoo run by husband-and-wife veterinarians was slapped with a cease and desist order after a Jan. 10 inspection that revealed several violations, mostly concerning the operation of a business on residential property.
None of the problems involve the health or treatment of Jay and Valerie Holt’s menagerie of almost 400 animals, according to county spokesman Dan Kulin.
Valerie Holt said she was told they need to install a commercial septic system and flush toilets before they will be allowed to reopen. They also were told they can no longer let visitors inside what used to be their family home on the property unless they bring it up to commercial building standards, she said.
The septic system alone could cost $100,000 or more — money Holt said they simply don’t have and can’t possibly raise with no revenue coming in.
“We are closed,” she said, “but I still need to feed and take care of these animals.”
Holt said county officials were discussing a solution that could allow the zoo to temporarily reopen while it makes the necessary improvements, but details were not immediately available late Thursday.
Holt is frustrated because she feels like the county already signed off on the operation when it issued the zoo a special-use permit in 2009 and renewed it in 2011. She said code enforcement officials knew all along that the zoo was using portable toilets for visitors but they never cited it as a problem until now.
“They keep changing the rules on us. That’s how this feels,” she said.
Kulin said he couldn’t discuss any specific code or permit violations at the zoo because the county has a policy not to comment on open cases.
What he did say is that obtaining a special-use permit “doesn’t eliminate the need for other permits required by other departments and agencies.”
As for why it took four years to discover that the zoo was out of compliance, Kulin said: “If those conditions existed in the past, they should have been caught (by the county) earlier.”
He said the county received a complaint about the zoo in August and code enforcement officer paid the Holts a visit in September.
The case then underwent a management review, and that led to the Jan. 10 inspection by representatives from code enforcement, the building department and the Southern Nevada Health District.
Holt said four or five trucks pulled up to the gate unannounced about 10:30 a.m. that Friday and a group of inspectors spilled out. “It was a big entourage of people for an anonymous complaint,” she said.
Roos-N-More is not your typical zoo. Only a handful of the animals are kept in cages. Most of them live in open enclosures that allow them to interact with each other, even species from opposite sides of the globe.
In one pasture, horses, cows, sheep and goats graze peacefully alongside llamas, camels and a zebra. In another field, several varieties of kangaroo mingle with turkeys, chickens and small, deer-like animals.
Visitors can touch and in some cases hold certain animals.
The zoo only opens to the general public four or five days a month. The rest of the time, the facility can be rented out for private tours and events.
Roos-N-More is accredited with the Zoological Association of America and licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the exhibition and captive breeding of exotic animals.
The zoo’s special-use permit from the county calls for it to house up to 200 animals, but the Holts actually have more like 385 if you include birds and reptiles.
Holt said that as far as she is concerned the number in the permit only applies to mammals because that’s the only kind of animal the county regulates. By that measure, she said, the zoo really only has 150 mammals including monkeys, otters, sloths and kangaroos.
They don’t keep any large predators or other animals known to attack people, Holt said.
The special-use permit restricts the zoo to no more than 40 people per scheduled visit and makes no reference at all to the open zoo days the Holts were holding almost every weekend. Holt said those zoo days typically attracted between 100 and 500 people.
She said they still have clearance from the county to conduct “off-site programs” with their animals, but that isn’t a significant source of income for them. They netted about $900 from such events last year, barely enough to cover two weeks worth of dry food for their animals, Holt said.
This marks the second Clark County zoo to close its doors in the past four months.
The Southern Nevada Zoological Park, more commonly known as the Las Vegas Zoo, shut down in September after 30 years of operation on Rancho Drive. The attraction was cited by government agencies, sued, publicly criticized by former employees and had several animals die over the years. After it shut down, federal officials helped remove the animals and find them new homes.
The Holts have operated a veterinary practice in Las Vegas since 1990.
Their collection of exotic animals began with a single kangaroo — actually a Bennett’s wallaby named Pogo — that Jay gave Valerie as a birthday present in 2002.
They eventually moved out of the city to their current spread in Moapa because they needed more room for their animals, including a camel Jay had his eye on.
By 2008, they were sharing their home with some 200 animals, both exotic and domestic, so they started opening their gates to the public once a month or so. They also began offering private tours, field trips and mobile “zoo-to-you” programs.
The Holts considered it an educational enterprise, but it was also meant to bring in enough money to help offset their mounting feed bills.
Now they find themselves begging for donations to pay for the improvements needed to satisfy the county and allow the zoo to reopen.
Without some outside help, Valerie Holt said, they only have one real option: “We’ll have to shut it down and get rid of a large majority of the animals we wouldn’t be able to afford on our own.”
“We’d just have to shut down.”
Contact reporter Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0350. Follow him on Twitter @RefriedBrean.