The Lion’s Gate Sanctuary in Colorado said it was forced to euthanise its animals last month after it was denied permission to relocate away from a site that had repeatedly flooded.
Co-owners doctor Joan Laub and Peter Winney said in a statement they planned to build a new facility on 45 acres of empty land they owned, but were denied permission by commissioners who bowed to pressure from local residents in an "unfair" hearing.
In a statement the couple said they felt "the Elbert County Commissioners did not take... the plight of our animals seriously... [or] the safety of Elbert County residents seriously".
"We told them it was no longer safe to keep the animals at that location and we needed to move," they said.
"The commissioners made a decision based upon emotion, and not the law. The 'not in my backyard' crowd controlled the meeting and the outcome.
"As a result, 11 innocent animals paid the price."
Elbert County officials denied responsibility for the deaths of the exotic animals, saying they did not anticipate the outcome of the ruling.
The couple killed all of the big cats and bears at once without warning, having said in the hearing they intended to continue to care for them at the old site if they were denied permission to move, a spokesman for the three county commissioners said in a statement. .
Furthermore, the Keenesburg Wild Animal Sanctuary, also in Colorado, had “publicly offered to care for the animals at their facility if Lion’s Gate was unable to do so", the commissioners claim.
Dr Laub and Mr Winney claimed they did reach out to other animal centres for help, but nobody offered to take in their animals because most were very old. But several centres inside and outside the state dispute this, saying they did not hear from the couple and could have offered the animals a home.
Pat Craig, who runs the Wild Animal Sanctuary in Keenesburg, told Denver7 the couple were lying.
“Taking care of animals that are either sick or have long-term issues is part of our daily thing that we do here,” Ms Craig said. “We rescue... geriatric animals all the time where they’re definitely in the last phases of their life and most people think it would be traumatic for them to move and we move many animals and every one of them ends up very happy here, even in their elder years.”
Meanwhile the Wildcat Sanctuary in Minnesota said they were in a "state of shock" over the decision, especially as they had been "very vocal about our opening for lions in need".
In a post on Facebook the animal rescue facility said they had a long history with Lion's Gate, having rehomed five animals from the centre more than ten years ago when it operated under a different name and had a different owner. They urged members of the public to request an official investigation into the incident.
"It appears this tragedy was a selfish move by these private owners and had nothing to do with the welfare of the animals," the centre said, in a post that has been liked nearly 7,000 times. "Our heart breaks knowing these were senseless deaths of animals that deserved so much more compassion."
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