Malibu Wine Safaris’ famous giraffe named Stanley is at the center of a civil asset forfeiture battle among other legal proceedings. Stanley gained fame for appearing in the third installment of the movie franchise, “The Hangover,” and his photos with different celebrities. Since 2015, Stanley has been owned by Ron Semler, the son of the owner of Saddlerock Ranch where Malibu Wine Safaris operates.
In the last year, the ranch has gone under fire on social media when people discovered that the animals were allegedly not evacuated out of the premises during the Woolsey Fire. While the owners of the ranch clarified that the animals were herded into a secured area and were not in any danger of getting harmed, the situation caught the attention of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDWF).
Saddlerock Ranch was investigated by the CDFW with surprising results. According to the captain of the CDFW, the Semler family had reportedly not met the prerequisites required to operate a business involving wild animals. Furthermore, the investigation revealed that Stanley’s owner allegedly falsified information to obtain a “restricted species” permit for the giraffe.
Immediate action was undertaken by the CDFW on the case. They raised the matter to court and the owner of Malibu Wine Safaris was charged with a misdemeanor criminal act for keeping wild animals without proper licensing. The giraffe’s owner was also charged for the alleged falsification of documents. The trials are still ongoing as of this writing.
Stanley and the other wild animals were put in a precarious situation because of the legal action taken against their owner. In June 2020, the CDFW sent a letter to the ranch owners detailing the fate of the giraffe. They were given a 30-day ultimatum to choose whether to move Stanley to a licensed facility, transfer the giraffe to another state, humanely end the giraffe’s life, or have Stanley taken by the state. After the ultimatum, the CDFW seized the giraffe but kept it in its current location for the meantime because of logistical problems in transferring Stanley to a different place.
Under California’s laws on civil asset forfeiture, authorities would normally need to prove beyond reasonable doubt and secure a conviction of a crime to seize property. However, this particular case involving a giraffe falls on grey areas of the statutes. Even though trial is still ongoing for the owners of Stanley, the giraffe was already “seized in place” by the CDFW to ensure its welfare. There is a question raised by this situation. What should be done in cases of civil asset forfeiture that involve animals and what will happen to them?
Currently, the fate of Stanley and his owners lie in the decision of the courts. The CDFW placated concerned citizens and stated that should they be in full custody of the giraffe, it would not be killed but relocated to a safer and legal facility.
Stanley the giraffe’s case is rare and it highlights what can still be improved in California’s civil asset forfeiture laws. The lives of animals can be involved when law enforcement seize property. The authorities should take the most humane measures possible in these unique instances.
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