Nearly 500 animals displaced after Wildlife Waystation Animal Sanctuary shuts down

Mired in financial and management difficulties aggravated by fire and flood damage sustained in recent years, the Wildlife Waystation animal sanctuary outside Sylmar was officially closed Tuesday, and efforts began to relocate the nearly 500 animals at the facility.

According to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, the sanctuary's board voted earlier this month to surrender its operating permit. The move follows a months-long management shakeup that began with the May departure of founder/president Martine Collette.

Her departure came amid a major fundraising effort aimed at making repairs at the facility, which was damaged by the 2017 Creek Fire and suffered flood damage earlier this year. But amid more management shakeups in recent weeks, the future of the facility became bleak.

"CDFW will maintain oversight of the facility until all animals can be placed at appropriate wildlife facilities,'' according to a statement released Tuesday by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. "CDFW's primary concern is for the health and welfare of the animals at Wildlife Waystation. CDFW is working collaboratively with the Wildlife Waystation staff to ensure the best possible care during this transition.''

The Waystation was incorporated in 1976 and served as a sanctuary for animals including tigers, lions and chimpanzees. According to its website, the facility "has helped more than 77,000 abused, abandoned, orphaned and injured animals'' since its incorporation, including wolves, coyotes, camels, hyenas, reptiles and leopards.

CDFW called on the public to avoid traveling to the property which is "closed until further notice.''

Matthew Simmons, who co-founded the Lockwood Animal Rescue Center in Frazier Park and had been running the Waystation following Collette's departure, has been brought in to help find new homes for the animals, according to a statement from the Lockwood facility. Also brought in was Rebecca Richard, the former Wildlife Waystation lead veterinarian.

According to CDFW, the agency is "contacting its network of local and national animal welfare organizations both for assistance and expertise in care of the animals as well as assistance in finding permanent placement for the more than 470 animals at the facility.''

FOX 11's Stephanie Stanton contributed to this report.