Henry County

State, county leaders considering increased oversight of Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary

HENRY COUNTY, Ga. — Supporters of Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary spoke during a public meeting Wednesday morning about their concerns with new leadership within the nonprofit’s board.

“The safety is probably my biggest concern right now,” said Jama Hedgecoth, founder of the sanctuary.

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Hedgecoth told Channel 2 Action News’ Ashli Lincoln that they reached out to the state over their concerns.

On Wednesday, they met with state and Henry County leaders at Georgia’s agriculture office.

District 10 state Sen. Emmanuel Jones said the meeting was to get clarity on the turmoil that’s unfolding behind the scenes.

Hedgecoth says after the appointment of Dr. Michelle Lakly as president this year, animal protection has now turned to profit.

“She said the money is in the exotic animals, and that’s what we’re going to focus on,” said Hedgecoth.

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Concerns regarding the lack of financial transparency, allegations of board meetings held in secret, and need for safety protocols were discussed.

“If an animal gets out, and everybody keeps asking about a tiger, we don’t have the drugs to dart it. So if it gets out, human life is most important,” Hedgecoth said.

This month, Hedgecoth says the board removed two of their most experienced employees, an animal manger and veterinarian. She claims this happened as a reprimand from the board for conducting an unapproved animal rescue.

“This is a big facility. It’s 250 acres. It’s 1,500 animals. They have lions, tigers, and bears in there,” Jones said.

Jones says his office was contacted to intervene.

“We have to do a better job legislatively in looking at what laws are on the book to regulate this facility,” he said.

After the meeting, Jones met with Henry County leaders and other state leaders to create future steps toward increased oversight.

The state conducted two inspections at the sanctuary this month. During Wednesday’s meeting, they said no serious violations were found.

The board chair and president were not present during Wednesday’s meeting.

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They sent Channel 2 the statement they sent to Jones regarding allegations from Hedgecoth.

“We received your invitation for tomorrow’s gathering. In accordance with appropriate board governance, our Chairman does not plan to attend as invited.

Unfortunately, there has been some wildly misleading information circulating about the mission, staff and board of Noah’s Ark Animal Sanctuary. The issue at hand is one of internal friction between a founder seeking more power within the governance restrictions of a non-profit structure. This and other personnel issues are inappropriate to air in a public event.

We encourage you as leaders in our region to base opinions and support on clear understanding of the context.

Starting in 2018, Noah’s Ark added independent, unpaid and experienced members to the board, creating a team with diverse corporate, financial, philanthropic and animal care experience. Since this new leadership began its work, we have led Noah’s Ark to regain our 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.”

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