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Rift at the Zoo?

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By Tia Lynn Lecorchick editor

A PRESS RELEASE SAYS DIRECTOR GONE, LAWYER SAYS OTHERWISE

Michael Vaden, one of the founders of the Georgia Zoo and Safari Park, has reportedly left the project. A press release from the zoo announced Vaden’s departure, citing that Vaden, the owner of River Farm Aviary off Highway 83 in Morgan County, will be devoting “his full attention to his taxidermy and exotic bird breeding businesses…Mr. Vaden, doing business as Wildlife Artistry in Madison, Georgia is a renowned taxidermist and is also an experienced breeder of exotic and tropical birds.” But legal counsel for Vaden, Chuck Dorr, claims the zoo’s press release is false. “That press release is incorrect and it’s premature,” said Dorr. “Opening a zoo is like making sausage, it’s not always pretty. There are disagreements about how to move forward.” Bill Killmer, an award-winning landscape architect and CEO of the zoo, wished Vaden well in his future endeavors and hinted at a future collaboration in the zoo’s press release. “The Georgia Zoo and Safari Park thanks Mr. Vaden for his contributions to our project, and wishes him the best as he returns to concentrate on his other ventures,” said Killmer. “We look forward to working with Mr. Vaden in the future to obtain birds for the Zoo’s collection.” Vaden and Killmer had secured a 395-acre property at the intersection of the southwest corner of Interstate 20 and Highway 83, still planned to become the site of the zoo. With Killmer’s expertise in vegetation and Vaden’s specialty in exotic wildlife, the two seemed to cultivate a formidable partnership, an ideal pair for bringing a world-class zoo to Morgan County. Vaden said of Killmer in a 2013 interview, “Pretty much what I am to animals, he is to plants.” However, Vaden faced a few major setbacks in recent months with the tragic deaths of his beloved exotic birds, apparently due to a neighboring dairy farm crop dusting toxic materials onto Vaden’s property. Vaden lost over 20 birds, worth thousands of dollars and intended for bartering use to secure other wildlife for the zoo. Dorr maintained that the exotic bird deaths are not the reason for the current schism between Killmer and Vaden. “It has nothing to with the birds,’ said Dorr. “Creating a zoo is hard and not everyone agrees how to move forward. Everyone is working hard and it’s a lot of pressure. We are trying to work through the disagreements the parties have and they are trying to work out their relationship moving forward. Give them some room and some time for the emotions to subside,” said Dorr.

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