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Authorities issue 59 violations against Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary over animal care

Ralph Heath faces 59 alleged violations concerning the handling of animals at the facility.

Ralph Heath faces 59 alleged violations concerning the handling of animals at the facility.

INDIAN SHORES — Fish and wildlife officials have cited the Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary with dozens of violations stemming from the nonprofit organization's handling of animals in its care.

The 59 alleged violations of state and federal regulations go to the heart of the nonprofit's mission, which its website describes as the "rescue, repair and rehabilitation of injured birds and then their release back into nature."

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission levied the violations against Ralph Heath, the sanctuary's founder.

When agents arrived April 30 at the sanctuary they found that wildlife were "not cared for properly and were living in squalor, which violates the permit conditions under which the sanctuary operates," wildlife commission investigator Steve DeLacure reported in a statement. "We found animals confined in unsanitary conditions and injured wildlife that had not received proper care, a situation that demanded immediate remedial action."

Wildlife veterinarians called in to assess the situation found 10 birds with extensive injuries, the wildlife commission said. Eight of the birds had to be euthanized.

The violations issued by wildlife commission investigators against Heath included 54 incidences of failing to maintain treatment logs for wildlife under his care; two violations on rehabilitating protected migratory birds in unapproved locations; one violation each for unclean drinking water for its 78 turtles; and failing to meet minimum caging and water requirements for captive wildlife.

Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary, at 18328 Gulf Blvd., has faced financial problems over the past few years, including Heath's arrest in November on charges of workers' compensation insurance fraud. In 2012, the IRS filed three liens on the property over unpaid taxes. Heath could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@tampabay.com or (727) 892-2248.

Authorities issue 59 violations against Suncoast Seabird Sanctuary over animal care 05/06/14 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 6, 2014 9:21pm]
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