Sloth (Kangaroo & Capybara) Encounters
Who are sloths?
Sloths are solitary, tree-dwelling animals with sharp teeth and four-inch claws. Native to tropical rainforests, they are the slowest moving mammal on the planet, are mostly deaf, and nearly blind when exposed to bright daylight.
Allowing hands-on contact is not ethical. Sloths are a solitary species, so they’re not social and can’t be domesticated. They are the prey and humans are the predator. Sadly, their natural reaction is to stay still, which confuses people into thinking they are content with being held and touched. And there’s another entirely separate issue: the effects of social media.
The more people visiting these encounters and sharing photographs of touching and holding a sloth, the faster these actions become normalized. People then come to economically troubled countries like Costa Rica or Colombia or Brazil with a preconception that sloths are touchable and holdable, which then presents greater opportunities for exploitation.
What is Sloth Encounters Long ISland?
Sloth Encounters is a petting zoo and exotic animal “pet” store operating unlawfully in the Town of Islip, New York. Sloth Encounters subjects wild animals, including vulnerable baby sloths, kangaroos, porcupines, and capybaras to grabbing hands, noisy crowds, and ramshackle cages inside a store zoned for pool supplies. Its owner Larry Wallach has a long history of animal mistreatment, and his latest misadventure has been plagued with federal, county, and local violations from the moment it opened its doors.
Since July 2023, Wallach’s been cited for violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, pled guilty to wildlife trafficking, and been found guilty of contempt of Supreme Court.
Wallach’s violations have spurred both a new Suffolk County law banning traveling exotic animals and new state legislation looking to ban the sale of these animals to the public, however, despite all this, the USDA recently renewed his license and he’s continuing to operate, most recently being busted taking customers through the back of the store—which has been ordered closed by the Supreme Court three times—and bringing them to unlicensed marijuana parties where organizers allege the sloths got “high.”
According to Denise Flores—an employee of Wallach’s late business partner Sam Mazzola—Wallach’s illegal cannabis exhibitions weren’t the first time Wallach’s animals were allegedly drugged, telling Roadside Zoo News:
[Sam] had partnered up with a man named Larry Wallach to open this store and they were bringing in cubs—like a baby white lion and a baby tiger—and Larry was drugging the babies! I caught him. After I saw him drug the cub, I grabbed the baby and stuck my finger down its throat to get it to vomit the drugs up. I confronted Larry about it, but he was one of the bosses. I’m pretty sure they kept drugging the cubs after that.
Animal Welfare Act violations & Child Endangerment Allegations
Sloth Encounters’ owner Larry Wallach has been cited for more than fifty violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act, including recent “critical” violations for lying to USDA inspectors about an incident involving the bite of a child at his illegal Hauppauge facility and for mishandling animals in a way that’s dangerous to the public and the animals. A
Child Bitten At Sloth Encounters
According to the father of this child, Wallach attempted to downplay this bite as a routine occurrence by saying his child was the fourth person to have been bit. Wallach was later cited for “critical” violations of the federal Animal Welare Act for lying to USDA inspectors about this incident and for mishandling animals in a way that’s dangerous to the animals and the public.
In October 2022, Wallach was cited for two more violations of the Animal Welfare Act after he failed to show USDA inspectors a veterinary care plan for a baby sloth and told inspectors that the sloths stay at his brother or girlfriend’s house when the facility is closed, when in fact he was harboring them at the Best Western Mill River Manor in Rockville Centre. After Best Western’s corporate office was informed that Wallach was hiding sloths from federal authorities at this location, Wallach was ordered to remove them and vacated the hotel. Wallach then began staying with an employee who was squatting in a New York City apartment. Shortly thereafter, the Administration of Children‘s Services took custody of two children belonging to that Sloth Encounters employee after it apparently found she had endangered them by exposing them to dangerous, wild animals at Sloth Encounters.
Wallach was cited again by the USDA in March 2023 for not providing federal inspectors access to inspect his facility; and again, in April 2023 for mishandling animals after a USDA inspector observed an employee improperly feeding a baby kangaroo in a manner that “can lead to aspiration and accompanying aspiration pneumonia” and after a sloth was observed attempting to bite Wallach and patrons.
Wallach was yet again cited for violations of the Animal Welfare Act in August 2023 after failing to keep a written program of veterinary care for kangaroos, capybaras, a chinchilla, and a sugar glider; and for keeping the sloths in an enclosure with humidity insufficient for their health and welfare, leading to a baby sloth named Cosmo to scratch at his skin.
In October 2023, Wallach was cited for failing to maintain “a safe and effective program for the control of insects, ectoparasites, avian and mammalian pests” after “a large number of flies were seen in the store front (housing the capybaras and kangaroo), sloth exhibit area, and kitchen.”
Town of Islip Charges & Contempt of Supreme Court
The Suffolk County Health Department has cited Sloth Encounters for operating without a permit and the Town of Islip has issued Sloth Encounters and its landlord 777 Chris’s Way, LLC criminal court appearance tickets for possession of wild animals, occupancy of a building without fire marshal approval, prohibited use, and change of use without a permit.
The Suffolk County Supreme Court has also granted Islip both a Temporary Restraining Order and a Preliminary Injunction enjoining Sloth Encounters from operating unlawfully while the court considers a permanent injunction to shutter the business, however, Wallach has not only continued to illegally exhibit sloths in Islip but has hauled them on the road and expanded his illicit business to exploit baby kangaroos, porcupines, bearcats, and other animals who are also illegal in the township.
In contempt of court filings, Islip’s attorney wrote that the business is displaying “blatant disobedience and unwillingness to comply with court order … The Defendants are recidivists. They are determined to do whatever they want without regard for the law, the consequences of their actions, or the efforts of municipal authorities or this Court to stop them.”
On July 11, 2023, the Suffolk County Supreme Court found Sloth Encounters and its landlord 777 Chris’s Way, LLC guilty of civil contempt of court, ordering that Sloth Encounters must:
immediately cease and desist from operating the subject premises as a ‘pet store’ or petting zoo” and that “the defendants shall be fined the sum of $250.00 per day, payable to the Town, for each day the defendants continue to operate as a pet store or petting zoo in violation of the March 30, 2023, Order of the Court.
Wallach continues to face charges for illegal possession of wild animals in Suffolk County’s 5th District Court.
Guilty of Interstate Wildlife Trafficking
In addition to his local charges, Wallach recently pled guilty to state charges of illegal possession with intent to sell Nile monitors—venomous reptiles who grow up to 7ft long. The district attorney’s office sought incarceration, however, the Honorable Judge Jonathan Bloom sentenced Wallach to only a $250 fine plus a $25 surcharge, basically the cost of doing business.
Nile Monitors are listed as Dangerous Animals as defined by Title 6 New York Codes, Rules, and Regulations 180.1. They require a Dangerous Animals permit, which Wallach does not have after the DEC failed to renew his permit last year due to previous infractions.
According to Daniel Bennet's (1998) Monitor Lizards: Natural History, Biology & Husbandry:
There are few lizards less suited to life in captivity than the Nile monitor. Buffrenil (1992) considered that, when fighting for its life, a Nile monitor was a more dangerous adversary than a crocodile of a similar size. Their care presents particular problems on account of the lizards’ enormous size and lively dispositions. Very few of the people who buy bright-coloured baby Nile monitors can be aware that, within a couple of years, their purchase will have turned into an enormous, ferocious carnivore, quite capable of breaking the family cat’s neck with a single snap and swallowing it whole.
Young Tiger electroshocked & Licenses suspended, Denied
Sloth Encounters is not Larry’s Wallach’s first run-in with the law. Larry Wallach has racked up more than 50 citations from federal authorities, countless local citations, and even received a 6-month suspension of his USDA license in 2013. The DEC failed to renew his license to exhibit certain “dangerous animals”, such as lions, tigers, and bears, following his chronic and blatant disregard for animal welfare and public safety, which is apparently why he’s now exhibiting sloths who are not subject to that permit requirement.
In 2021, the U.S. Department of Agriculture cited Wallach after finding a sloth in his cluttered garage with hazards in and around the animal’s enclosure that “could injure the animal by burning, broken glass, or electrical shock.” The agency also cited a roadside zoo in Ohio after a tip from PETA that Wallach, holding an electric prod and accompanied by a dog, entered the cage of a young tiger he had dumped there after she outgrew the dilapidated cage that he had kept her in under the deck of his Nassau County residence.
The USDA previously cited Wallach for an incident in which he took an unrestrained tiger cub to a public park and allowed the public to pet and handle the animal. A tip from PETA about Facebook Live videos—one of which depicted Wallach electroshocking a young tiger named Sheba and threatening a dog with an electric prod—resulted in a slew of citations, including a “critical” citation for failure to follow veterinary instructions for treatment of Sheba’s broken toe, and further citations for confining her to an enclosure in disrepair that had broken floorboards, and putting her and a wolf at risk of injury by allowing them to interact in a dangerous manner.