Las Vegas Sun

September 21, 2018

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Accidental zoo holds out hope that it can remain open

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Mikayla Whitmore

Children reach to pet a South American coati at Roos-N-More in Moapa. The nonprofit business is not technically a zoo but does have hundreds of animals.

When veterinarians Valerie and Jay Holt moved in 2006 to a rural neighborhood in Moapa with a pack of 15 kangaroos and wallabies, they had no intention of starting a zoo.

But after adding lemurs, a monitor lizard, an alligator, snakes, birds and other exotic species to a menagerie that grew to more than 200 animals, that’s exactly what they ended up with. In 2009, they started hosting tours at what they dubbed Roos-N-More Zoo.

Despite the name, the “zoo” isn’t accredited by any zoological association and their property isn’t zoned to house exotic animals. A U.S. Department of Agriculture inspection in April found the facility lacked proper fencing, had unsanitary enclosures and had an infestation of flies.

Now, the Holts are trying to bring their attraction into compliance. They are seeking use permits for a recreational facility and to have exotic animals on the property. Clark County officials have taken issue with signs, landscaping and trash enclosures on the land, but the biggest sticking point is the number of animals allowed.

“I tell people I don’t need Alcoholics Anonymous, I need Animals Anonymous,” said Valerie Holt, who dreamed of becoming a zookeeper before becoming a veterinarian.

The influx of animals and visitors into the quiet area has divided the community. Some saw the facility as a boon to Moapa. But at least one neighbor vehemently opposed it.

“The quiet was gone, replaced by flies and the screeching of unknown animals on the other side of the wall,” Linda Dey said. “We don’t want to live next to a zoo.”

Increased commercial activity at the property, which is zoned as residential, drew scrutiny from inspectors from Clark County and the Southern Nevada Health District. They shut down Roos-N-More in January 2014. Since then, the Holts have hosted a handful of private tours, but Valerie said they’re going broke trying to stay afloat. The Holts relied on entrance fees and fundraisers to feed and care for the animals.

The couple has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars trying to improve the property, but the Clark County Commission denied a use permit recently, meaning the Holts will have to get rid of all their exotic animals within six months or face fines.

“It feels like having to put your children up for adoption,” Valerie Holt said.

Despite its troubles, Roos-N-More is beloved by many in Las Vegas. Hundreds of supporters have participated in fundraisers and conducted educational events with animals at local schools.

And there’s still a sliver of hope that Roos-N-More will be saved. Clark County Commissioner Mary Beth Scow recently requested that the board reconsider the application on Sept 2.

“I don’t think we quite got our arms around what the issues were,” Scow said.

Scow and several other commissioners said that if Roos-N-More were allowed to reopen, the Holts would have to minimize its impact on neighbors. Commissioner Steve Sisolak said he’d also want to limit the number of animals that could be kept on the property and prohibit animal breeding.

“Somebody has got to get a handle on what’s allowed there,” he said. “How far do you go with this?”

The Holts recently hired an attorney, the same lawyer who was able to keep the Lion Habitat Ranch in Henderson open this year after it faced similar issues with regulators.

Scow said she hoped for a compromise to give Roos-N-More one last chance.

“I would expect when they come back, they’ll be very prepared,” she said. “If their permit ever lapsed again, I wouldn’t consider reinstating it.”

— Megan Messerly contributed to this story.

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