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Sloth Encounters’ Enters Not Guilty Plea: Animal Activists Look to County-Wide Ban

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Animal Rights Activists have made progress after their months-long protest against the Sloth Encounter of Long Island, an effort spearheaded by Jon Di Leonardo, president of Humane Long Island.  

On September 13, Humane Long Island protested outside Islip Town Hall. The protestors urged Islip officials to take more immediate action, in addition to the citations already written against Sloth Encounters of Long Island, its owner Larry Wallach, and the property owner.  

The protestors seemed to achieve yet another success as immediately after their September 13 protest. Islip filed a permanent injunction and temporary restraining order against Sloth Encounters. A judgment on the temporary restraining order is expected within a week.  

A Sloth Encounters employee, Ashley Herkommer, read a statement at the town board meeting advocating for the business.  

In reference to the four town code violations against Wallach, Wallach’s attorney, John Zollo, entered a not guilty plea on behalf of his client in Suffolk County’s Fifth District Court on September 14. 

Outside of the Ronkonkoma courthouse, Zollo made comments in support of the business. 

“If you haven’t been inside, the (sloths) are bred in captivity; they are not wild animals,” said Zollo to News12. “It’s a beautiful facility – it’s like the Bronx Zoo…” 

When asked if news of the injunction and temporary restraining order turned their protest into more of a celebration than a protest, Di Leonardo had this to say: 

“Not yet. Until his doors are closed, our campaign will continue.”  

Di Leonardo also stated, “the next step is to ban (wildlife petting zoos) throughout Suffolk County.  

The ban, Di Leonardo believes, would be minimally intrusive, only affecting a handful of businesses.  

Di Leonardo believes a county-wide ban is necessary because in the absence of state and federal legislation, Wallach or like-minded proprietors would simply be able to open in Smithtown and Brookhaven. This reality makes Wallach’s choice of Islip – a town with specific codes against the possession of wildlife – that much more jarring.   

According to the Sloth Encounters’ website, the establishment is still operating. A petition posted on change.org in support of the business has garnered 1,167 signatures and counting.  

A portion of the petition reads:  

“We are currently under attack by supposed animal rights groups who continuously harass and bully our establishment and employees. Their motivation to shut us down revolves strictly around false accusations and malicious allegations. We tried our best to remain positive and quiet but it’s come to a point where we feel we have a responsibility to publicly address the situation.” 

This is a developing story with more to follow. 

Brian R. Monahan
Brian R. Monahan
Staff Writer for The Messenger Papers.