Zoo Boise isn’t the only place in the Treasure Valley to see exotic animals.
Just over the Gem County line north of Caldwell, Babby Farms is home to dozens of creatures from all over the world, including a camel, coatimundis, otters, several species of primates, horses, kangaroos, and colorful birds from the far reaches of the globe. Because many of the animals are “hand-raised,” Babby Farms allows visitors to get up close and personal with the animal kingdom in a way not available in a traditional zoo, all for an $11 admission fee.
But, a group of former Babby Farms employees is making allegations of poor animal care and dangerous conditions for employees, volunteers, and guests who visit the farm. A change.org petition titled “Help us shut down Babby Farms in Caldwell, Idaho,” started by Gabrielle Derrey, who identifies herself as a former employee, gathered over 15,000 signatures as of November 30.
Babby Farms denies allegations
Over the course of three weeks, BoiseDev interviewed five employees on the record and sought comment from several others to learn more about their allegations and what they observed while working on the property. All of the former employees who interviewed expressed a deep love of the animals on the farm but expressed concern about small cages and the number of staff members. These low-staffing levels made it challenging to keep enclosures appropriately cleaned, a lack of animal enrichment, and what they called improper safety measures to prevent employees and guests from injury, the employees said.
Others described poor nutrition and several animal deaths they say were preventable, most notably a beloved zebra named Zeus, who former employees say died in October. Three employees interviewed said the farm regularly operated when temperatures were above 100 degrees, potentially making the farm dangerous for animals and guests due to the lack of shade.
“During my employment, I witnessed animal mistreatment to the extreme, many animals died, and management has done nothing to mitigate this cruelty,” Derrey wrote in the change.org petition. “I and other staff members witnessed these animals suffering, but no matter how much the staff spoke up, our voices were never heeded.”
Babby Farms vehemently denies these claims. Before shutting down its Facebook page, the organization encouraged the public to look at its inspection record with the United States Department of Agriculture and touted staff’s experience with animals. The comments on this post, and others, were turned off.
“It is important to us that we first establish that these claims are, in fact, untrue,” the post said. “Ever since the very first animal was brought to our property in 2009, nothing has mattered more to any of us than the health and well-being of all our animals.”
Babby Farms initially told BoiseDev via Facebook it would grant an interview and allow a tour of the facility after the results of an inspection from the Idaho Department of Agriculture were made public. But the Facebook page shut down before the report became available last week.
BoiseDev visited the farm last month to request an interview. The staff declined to comment or give a tour citing other previous interviews to other outlets, including KBOI2. A call to TRACE Inc, the nonprofit that owns Babby Farms, asking questions about the allegations was referred back to the farm. A note left for TRACE Inc. President Cheryl Harris at the organization’s Boise office asking for a meeting or a phone call was not returned.
Employees say cage design leads to injuries
Babby Farms isn’t open to the public all year.
From May 1 through September 30, the organization staffs up and welcomes visitors onto the property to see the exhibits, pay for pony rides and participate in encounters with various animals. The other seven months of the year, Babby Farms shrinks its workforce down to a skeleton crew and keeps the majority of the animals in smaller, chain-link cages indoors to shield them from Idaho’s winter weather, according to all of the former employees interviewed by BoiseDev.
All of the former employees BoiseDev interviewed were seasonal workers who would come on board during the summer. In their interviews, they all remarked on how dirty enclosures got due to the low-staffing and the design of the pens themselves. They said none of the cages had separate rooms for the animals to go into while staff members entered the cage to clean, meaning workers always had to be in the enclosure with the animal without protective gear and limited training.
According to former zookeeper Samantha Shea, this led to several incidents where animals bit or otherwise attacked staff members and volunteers. She worked at Babby Farms for the 2017 season and has several years of experience in zoology at multiple facilities, including training at the Cat Tails Zoological Center in Spokane.
“They have untrained staff that are 16, 17, 18 years old who love animals and see these potentially dangerous animals as teddy bears and go in there and touch them,” Shea said.