Sloth Encounters encounter scrutiny

Humane Long Island holds protest in Islip over allegedly exploited sloths

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Sloths may be slow, but Humane Long Island wasn’t slow in protesting Sloth Encounters, a business in Hauppauge where you can hold and feed sloths.

“There is no excuse for animal abuse,” protesters chanted in front of the Town of Islip building on Aug. 9.

At the protest was John Di Leonardo, an anthrozoologist and the founder and president of Humane Long Island, his wife Juliana Cinone, the vice president of humane education, and about 20 other protesters supporting their cause.

“We’re urging the Town of Islip to do the right thing and shut him down and send a message to other bad actors, that it is not okay to exploit wild animals within the township,” Di Leonardo said.

Di Leonardo claims the sloths are being exploited, kept in “ramshackle” cages, and that they should not be kept awake during hours of operation since they are nocturnal creatures. He also said that there is footage of Larry Wallach, the owner of Sloth Encounters, “electroshocking a baby tiger with an electric prod.”

Wallach maintains that his sloths are under the best care and that he uses an electric prod to train the big cats, but does not electrocute them.

“If I press the button, as long as you hear that noise, you’re not electrocuting anything,” Wallach said. “The other thing is, you never electrocute a tiger because tigers remember. You do something to a big cat, he’ll wait, and if he doesn’t see the stick, he’ll kill you.”

Humane Long Island also received alleged reports of a child who was bitten by a sloth on July 24 and a man who was bitten on Aug. 5 at Sloth Encounters.

“I can tell you it’s an animal, and people will touch them and if they bite them, we put on a Band-Aid, notify the Board of Health, and that’s it,” Wallach said.

After about a half an hour, the protesters moved into the Islip Town meeting to voice their concerns and request that Sloth Encounters be shut down.

Before the meeting was open for public comment, John R. DiCioccio, the town attorney, gave an update on the town’s progress involving Sloth Encounters.

“On July 25 and Aug. 1, the fire marshal’s office was out at the property. They conducted multiple inspections, they issued notices of violation for change of use, for other fire code issues, and also a violation of Islip town code chapter 12,” DiCioccio said. “They have until Aug. 29 to remedy. If the property is not up to compliance on that date, the fire marshal’s office will go back, will issue appearance tickets, and the property owner will end up in court with the Town of Islip.”

Wallach stated that the fire marshal only wrote him a citation stating he needs to put up smoke and carbon detectors, a fire extinguisher, and fix the electrical panel. He also claimed those issues were resolved on the same day.

Sloth Encounters has a permit to operate a petting zoo, which expires Dec. 31, 2023, but Islip Town supervisor Angie Carpenter stated at the meeting that they are “operating illegally” because they don’t have a change-of-use permit.

Di Leonardo also claims that Wallach allegedly called him from a private number claiming he was a Newsday reporter and tried to get his home address.

“When I told him ‘I know you’re not Newsday. Is this Larry?’ He responded by saying, ‘You [expletive] dweeb. You better watch out. I’m coming for you,’ and then he hung up,” Di Leonardo said.

Wallach denies allegations of calling and threatening Di Leonardo and claims he already had his address because he hired a private investigator.

A change.org petition urging Carpenter to shut down Sloth Encounters has over 1,000 signatures, while a petition started by Sloth Encounters in support of the business has over 200 signatures.

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