LOCUST GROVE, Ga. — In their own words, the board of the highly criticized Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary spoke with Channel 2′s Ashli Lincoln for the first time.
They’re telling their side of an onslaught of allegations about what some describe as a rogue board.
The board says they’re breaking their silence after they say protests against the board are increasing in intensity, along with social media threats.
- Noah’s Ark employees walk off job, cite unsafe working conditions amid board leadership
- ‘This is a natural disease event’: Over 100 of birds humanely euthanized at Noah’s Ark
- Bird flu confirmed at Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary, killing hundreds of birds
The board sent Channel 2 Action News this detailed statement regarding the allegations they’re facing.
Members of the volunteer board of directors for Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary wish to share the following updates with our longstanding supporters, partners, media, and the public. We, the members of the board of directors, volunteer our time at Noah’s Ark because we care about animals. Only one of our current board members receives a salary from Noah’s Ark: that is Jama Hedgecoth. Because she is classified as an employee, she is paid a salary and receives benefits that add up to well over $100,000 per year. The rest of us on the board receive no salary or benefits of any kind. We are not in this for money or power. And we are certainly not in this for land. We do what we do because we love the animals, and we want them to have a forever home.
The last several months have been extremely challenging for Noah’s Ark and the members of our board. As is widely known and reported, Noah’s Ark continues its work with state authorities mounting a sustained and heroic effort to contain an avian influenza outbreak that has been detected in birds across the country. This remains everyone’s top priority as we work to protect the animals of Noah’s Ark and to cooperate with state authorities to protect the public, our staff, our volunteers, and birds across the region.
Noah’s Ark has engaged expert veterinarians who continue to work closely with state authorities toward a resolution of the bird flu outbreak. The state authorities required us to take several steps, including the temporary closure of the sanctuary to the public, and we have followed each of the steps as we were directed. Those authorities came on the grounds of the sanctuary and euthanized several of our beloved birds to protect the greater community. This was a source of great sadness for us all. None of this was our choice or decision. It had to be done to protect animals on the sanctuary and in the community. Fortunately, the risk of human infection with avian influenza is very low. The team of professionals managing the bird flu containment tells us it may take up to six months for the bird flu quarantine to be lifted.
Separate from the natural bird flu event, the organization has endured a sustained campaign of threats and intimidation, and we have watched as false or misleading information about Noah’s Ark has been published online by those who want to rewind the organization to a time before we joined the board. Until now, we have refrained from responding to much of this false information because our focus is on the protection of animals and not on human drama caused by disgruntled staff. But we feel the record needs to be set straight.
One of the outright lies that has been spread by our opponents is that the board has hatched a “plan” to close the sanctuary so that the land can be developed into commercial real estate. There is literally no truth to that lie and the conspiracy theories it has spawned on social media. Noah’s Ark exists as a nonprofit organization. Our board is made up of unpaid volunteers. There are no plans to sell or develop the property on which the sanctuary resides for commercial purposes. The bylaws of the organization and applicable law would prevent such a sale from taking place and benefiting anyone on the board. We say this as plainly as we can: there is no plan in place, nor intention of anyone involved with Noah’s Ark, to pursue sale or development of the property. This volunteer board shares the community’s concern for the well-being of the animals and maintaining a sanctuary for their continual care. That is why our board members donate their time and efforts to Noah’s Ark. The claim that we are plotting to sell off the land to develop it is 100% false.
The volunteer board of Noah’s Ark as currently constituted was put in place following allegations that our founder and/or founding family had misused donor funds. In response to those allegations, the Secretary of State’s office conducted an investigation. Though it did not find sufficient evidence to conclude that funds were stolen, the Secretary of State’s office did require Noah’s Ark to take several steps to remain open. In particular, as a condition of remaining open as a charitable organization, the Secretary of State’s office required Noah’s Ark to elect a new Board of Directors and required our new board to address serious compliance and internal control issues. In response, Noah’s Ark added independent, unpaid, and experienced directors to the board, creating a board team with diverse corporate, financial, philanthropic, and animal care experience.
Since this new board leadership began its work, Noah’s Ark regained its good standing with Georgia’s Secretary of State, substantially improved its financial status, improved the animals’ habitat facilities, and earned the highest possible rating from the leading accredited charity oversight organizations including Charity Navigator and Guidestar. Our board also exercised appropriate oversight over the founder and other long-term employees who for years had operated the sanctuary without any meaningful oversight from an independent board. In our opinion, this oversight and our push for accountability was necessary to ensure that Noah’s Ark can carry out its mission into the future. While necessary, that oversight was not well-received by the founder. This led to the unfortunate situation that faces us now, where the founder and her family members and allies are at odds with the governing board. The battle that has been drawn does nothing to serve the animals.
To maintain the nonprofit’s good standing, several restraints were put in place that caused apparent frustration for the founder and her family members. Since August 2022, the resulting pushback has distracted from the organization’s mission. It also threatens to again place the organization at risk of losing its good standing with the State. All the while, they have stood by as their allies spread false or misleading information about Noah’s Ark in social media or other public forums.
Noah’s Ark leadership and staff are now enduring threats of physical violence and verbal or online abuse as a result, further distracting from the organization’s mission. So-called “protestors” have been engaging in a prolonged campaign of intimidation: they have called for the resignation and death of our President, showed up in front of the sanctuary displaying at least one AR-15 style rifle, gone to our President’s home shouting profanities through a bullhorn and verbally abusing her family members, and taken other steps that have required law enforcement protection to ensure no loss of life. They have adopted the tactics of persons who camped out in front of the homes of Supreme Court justices earlier this year in what was seen by many as an effort to intimidate them from issuing decisions they disliked.
All of this has been done, we believe, in an effort to make us bow to the desires of our founder to run this organization as though she alone owns it. She does not. We are a nonprofit organization, and not a private company owned by the Hedgecoths or any other individuals. None of our employees or leaders deserve to be threatened with physical violence because we are trying our best to provide a sustainable future for the animals we serve. Those who are engaged in these tactics should be ashamed of themselves. The organization’s spokespersons are not speaking with media specifically because of the threats to their lives and families.
Until recently, the founder’s daughter-in-law, Allison Hedgecoth, worked as our Animal Husbandry Manager. She has announced on social media that she is no longer employed at Noah’s Ark. Following best practices, we will not comment on the specifics of her employment, and we will not comment on any disciplinary actions taken against her or why they had to be taken. Even though she has turned to social media to state her case, we will not respond in kind. We know the truth, and while we would like to share the details, we will not do so. Our focus is on the animals, not any former employee.
As our nonprofit destination is not currently open to the public, we have appropriately paused requests for donations to Noah’s Ark with the exception of the “Donate Now” option on the organization’s website Noahs-Ark.org. This is the only “official” option for those who wish to continue support the work of our nonprofit. Any other person or organization currently soliciting donations is not doing so on behalf of Noah’s Ark. Likewise, any individual or group requesting financial contributions or other donations allegedly “for the animals” or otherwise may well be misrepresenting their own interest in Noah’s Ark. The independent website RoadsideZooNews.org has written about the solicitation of donations by our opponents.
To further secure the long-term care of Noah’s Ark animals, and for the safety of the organization’s staff and volunteers, we ask for local, state, and federal law enforcement offices to investigate the current actions of persons attacking the staff and volunteers of our organization. We deserve to be safe. The animals need our staff and volunteers to be able to access the property without interference and threats of violence.
Many have noted that we have not provided updates to the community on our official Facebook page. The reason for that is straightforward: the person who had Admin control of our page has refused to turn over that control to Noah’s Ark. Our Facebook page has, in a word, been hijacked. We have sent repeated requests to Facebook to fix this problem, but those requests have not been answered to date. We also now publicly ask—as a follow-up to previous, repeated written requests—for that person to immediately provide the social media login details to the organization, enabling Noah’s Ark to resume use of its established social media accounts so that we can inform the public about the ongoing work to care for our animals.
Finally, we request that media organizations carefully consider “hearsay” about Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary from unverified sources. We ask media to please substantiate any claims made about our organization before publishing falsehoods about Noah’s Ark.
Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary is a treasured destination in Henry County. We on the board are committed to securing the future of Noah’s Ark – as long as we are able to withstand the campaign of threats and violence that we are facing. We appreciate the support of those tuned into facts versus falsehoods regarding the organization.
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