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Owner of dozens of zebras on Maryland farm is charged with animal cruelty after three escaped

The owner of a herd of zebras was charged Tuesday with animal cruelty after three zebras escaped his Maryland farm, including one found dead in an illegal snare trap.

Jerry Lee Holly, 76, of Upper Marlboro has been charged with three counts of animal cruelty.

Holly is accused of inflicting ‘unnecessary suffering or pain on a zebra’ and failing to provide the zebras with ‘nutritious food in sufficient quantity’ or give them ‘proper shelter.’

The exotic animal trader is the owner of a 40-zebra herd that was moved to Maryland from Florida in late summer, Prince George‘s County Animal Services Chief Rodney Taylor.

Three zebras escaped in August and one was found dead last month, officials said.

Five zebras (only four pictured) have been on the loose in Prince George’s County, Maryland for almost two months now after they escaped from a private farm 

Farm owner Jerry Holly has 39 zebras, brought up from Florida two weeks before the five escaped in late August, according to the county's Animal Services Division

Farm owner Jerry Holly has 39 zebras, brought up from Florida two weeks before the five escaped in late August, according to the county’s Animal Services Division 

Animal control has been trying to catch the two zebras that remain at large by setting up a feeding station and an 8-foot corral.

Charging documents state Holly was charged after the dead zebra was found just outside the fence enclosing his herd. 

If the caretaker had attended to the herd, it should have been seen or heard while dying, investigators wrote.

Investigators said another dead zebra was found in the 300-acre farm’s enclosure on Tuesday, which prompted police officers to swarm Jerry Holly’s property at night to remove the dead animal. A backhoe, animal control, department of Natural Resources and crime scene van showed up to the property.

Officials with the Prince George’s Department of Environment, which is responsible for overseeing the escaped zebras investigation, said in a statement that they are ‘not impounding the remaining animals housed on the property.’ 

However, they said they would explore the option to move them to other facilities ‘should the animals be removed.’ Maryland’s Natural Resources Police has taken over the investigation on the snare trap, which is illegal in the state.

County officials said Wednesday the other two escaped zebras remain on the loose. 

The zebras have been on the run since late August when they escaped from Holly’s farm. Many residents in the area reported sighting them and posted photos, videos and updates on where they’d been spotted on social media.

These 'local celebrities' have been popping up in citizens' backyards and on roadsides

These ‘local celebrities’ have been popping up in citizens’ backyards and on roadsides 

Rodney Taylor, the chief of Prince George's County Animal Services division, said the zebras are most likely lacking in terms of food, water and veterinary care

Rodney Taylor, the chief of Prince George’s County Animal Services division, said the zebras are most likely lacking in terms of food, water and veterinary care 

Rodney Taylor, the chief of Prince George’s County Animal Services division, said his agency received a call August 26 that three zebras were spotted ‘at large’ on nearby Croom Road, according to court documents.

Taylor added that he contacted Holly, who responded that he was ‘aware the zebras were loose, but had no plan to recapture the zebras at that time.’

The county decided not take to take care of the matter, leaving it primarily to Holly’s caretakers to capture the escaped zebras. However, it was agreed that the best way to do that was to lure them to a field near Holly’s property with hay and feed and to then gradually put up fencing to try to secure their capture. 

But last week, the county said that one of the zebras had died from being captured in a snare trap on private land that’s owned by the Girl Scouts and neighbors Holly’s land. 

Maryland’s Natural Resources Police said it received a call from a private individual affiliated with the Girl Scouts in mid-September to report the sight of a dead animal. When officers arrived at the scene, they found one of the zebra’s hind legs caught in a snare.

The Girl Scouts released a statement mentioning that the snare trap was placed by an ‘unauthorized trespasser’ on their property. 

Taylor said in court that Holly’s caretakers failed to recapture the zebras, who ‘pose a threat to the community’ as they ‘continue to wander through communities, railroad and public roads.’ He added they were ‘also at risk, as evidenced by the death of one of the zebras while at large.’

He also said the zebras are likely dehydrated, in starvation and lack veterinary care. The zebra that died after getting itself in the snare trap’s tangle, according to Taylor, was ‘within two feet of the fence line,’ where 36 other zebras were being held. 

The exotic animals were spotted by a family as they passed along their backyard in the tiny town of Upper Marlboro

The exotic animals were spotted by a family as they passed along their backyard in the tiny town of Upper Marlboro 

Six zebras escaped from a farm in Prince George's County, Maryland. They were spotted near Croom Road and Duley Station Road in Upper Marlboro

Six zebras escaped from a farm in Prince George’s County, Maryland. They were spotted near Croom Road and Duley Station Road in Upper Marlboro

An investigating officer with the Maryland Natural Resources Police said the ‘animal should have been seen or heard while it was dying from being caught in the snare if the caretaker had attended to the zebras in the fenced enclosure,’ court papers read. 

The zebra ‘most likely died of dehydration after a period of a few days struggling in the trap,’ the officer said.

Maryland’s Natural Resources Police have said they weren’t made aware of the dead zebra until September 16 and that by the time their officers got to the reported area, ‘the animal was completely decomposed.’ 

Officials said the ’cause of death could not be specifically determined.’ 

The other dead zebra that was found Tuesday on Holly’s property, where there are also other living zebras, had been dead ‘long enough’ that it had entered the ‘rigor-mortis stage,’ according to the court papers. 

In the court filing, Taylor described the zebras a ‘public nuisance’ and said ‘media coverage surrounding the zebras has brought traffic and trespassers to surrounding homes.’ 

‘These animals are being kept in the county in such manner as to disturb the peace, comfort, or health of neighbors and other residents of the county,’ the document read.

County officials said that they are still in the midst of their search to capture the other two wild zebras.

The zebra sage dates back to August 26, of this year, when the Prince George's County Animal Services Division was made aware of three zebras that had escaped from Holly's 300-acre farm

The zebra sage dates back to August 26, of this year, when the Prince George’s County Animal Services Division was made aware of three zebras that had escaped from Holly’s 300-acre farm

Two of the three missing zebras (pictured) were caught on camera in Prince George's County

Two of the three missing zebras (pictured) were caught on camera in Prince George’s County

That said, zebra owner Jerry Lee Holly is no stranger to the exotic animal business. 

He owns an abundance of wild animals at his properties in Florida and the one in suburban Maryland, including bison, kangaroos, zebras, camels and even spider monkeys. 

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency that is responsible for licensing and inspecting animals, Holly has a breeder’s license for both of his farms. 

Richard Bell, a spokesman for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, confirmed that Holly does ‘have the appropriate license for the zebras.’ 

Holly has been issued citations for multiple animal welfare violations including ones for inadequate veterinary care, unsafe enclosures and filthy conditions, according to USDA inspection records. 

Jerry Lee Holy owns a slew of animals at his properties in Florida and one in Maryland (pictured), including bison, kangaroos, zebras, camels and spider monkeys

Jerry Lee Holy owns a slew of animals at his properties in Florida and one in Maryland (pictured), including bison, kangaroos, zebras, camels and spider monkeys

Inspectors filed the finding of a dead monkey at his property in Florida in a 2014 USDA report, as well as sightings of sharp ends of wires on shelters for monkeys.

They also found ‘dirt, insects, rodent droppings and food debris’ in storage areas for the animals’ food. 

Two years later, Holly was charged at his other farm in Marion County, Florida, with possession of captive wild animals without a permit. He was found guilty and paid about $280 in court costs, according to online court records. 

USDA officials said that, in 2017, an estimated 170 animals — including gibbons, a giraffe, lemurs, spider monkeys, camels, kangaroos and roughly 51 zebras — were found at his Florida farm and that there were ‘a number of animals with physical conditions that need veterinary examination.’

The latest episode in the missing zebra sage ‘shows exactly what’s wrong with treating animals as commodities,’ said Kitty Block, the president of the Humane Society of the United States. 

‘We hope that this incident will spur the county and state to reconsider their current laws to hopefully prevent tragedies like this from happening in the future.’ 


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