With big fanfare last summer, the new management team for Safari’s Sanctuary was introduced to the public by Lori Ensign-Scroggins through interviews with numerous local media sources. President Karri Murphy, Vice President Tina Gunn, and Secretary Erica Meredith composed the three-member team of interns. Karri Murphy spent three years working at the Fort Worth Zoo as a mammal keeper before moving to Oklahoma and beginning her volunteer work at Safari’s for two years until she volunteered for the leadership role at Safari’s in May 2012, in preparation for the revocation of Lori Ensign-Scroggins’ USDA license, effective August 1, 2012, due to the USDA finding Lori unfit to run the park and exhibit animals to the public.
Although Karri Murphy had previous professional experience in exotic animal care before coming to Safari’s, Tina Gunn was brand new to the field when she began volunteering at Safari’s mid-May 2010.
As reported earlier, Karri’s application on behalf of the SWSI group for a USDA license last year was denied October 12, 2012, because Lori Ensign-Scroggins was still very much invested and involved in the ownership and management of the park, regardless of the widespread lip service given to her retiring.
Karri Murphy left Safari’s at the beginning of January 2013. In May 2012, after two years volunteering at Safari’s, she agreed to be president of the new management group of three interns who planned to run Safari’s once the owner Lori Ensign-Scroggins’ USDA license revocation was effective August 1, 2012. Karri is the only one of the three interns forming the new management group in the spring of 2012 that had previous experience prior to coming to Safari’s. She worked as a mammal zookeeper at the Fort Worth Zoo for three years. Both Tina Gunn and Erica Meredith had no prior experience–only two years of volunteering at Safari’s before becoming part of the management team.
The USDA denied Karri’s request for a USDA license because Lori was still actively connected to the park and its management. In January 2012, the USDA had informed Lori that she was unfit to be licensed and that they intended to revoke hers. Karri Murphy’s appeal to the USDA was rejected by the USDA judge on January 17, 2013. An important question we want answered is: Did Karri Murphy file the appeal or did someone else do it, using her name?
After the USDA’s letter of denial addressed to Karri Murphy was issued, Karri stopped making public appearances on behalf of Safari’s on television or speaking to the media. In fact, it was Tina Gunn who wrote a response to the USDA at the end of October, NOT Karri, asking what could be done to change the decision made on Karri’s license application, and the USDA responded directly to Tina reaffirming their original decision. [see copies of emails and correspondence between TINA and the USDA from October 2012 in the photo album attached to this post] It is likely that Karri realized by that time that there was little hope of reopening the park. The denial letter was unequivocal. As long as Lori was attached to the park, they would not issue Karri and the SWSI group a license to run it. Lori’s signed statement of surrender of the exotic animals at the park to Karri was dependent on Karri and the SWSI group being granted a USDA license for the park. Lori was keeping all the birds and reptiles—not signing them over to Karri—which was another indication that Lori was not retiring and likely not planning to distance herself from Safari’s. Did Karri guess that the management team plan was a ruse put in place to buy time for Lori and keep the public from realizing the extent of the problems Lori had created by her longtime mismanagement of the park, and to encourage continued donations to the park? If so, it would explain Karri’s withdrawal from some of her regular activities at Safari’s, no longer engaging with the public (or the USDA), and a quiet resignation to pursue other employment.
However, discovered today is a copy of a court document (Decision and Order signed January 17, 2013 by USDA Administrative Law Judge Jill S. Clinton) that demonstrates an appeal was filed requesting that the USDA reconsider its decision to deny approval of a USDA license to Karri Murphy and Safari’s Wildlife Sanctuary, Inc.
That appeal request was rejected by the judge.
Of concern is whether it was Karri Murphy herself or someone else using her name who filed the appeal, based on information we know and have outlined later in this article, and the reasons outlined for the automatic rejection of the appeal, outlined in the beginning of this Decision and Order (because of non-responses and follow-through from Karri to instructions and requests from the USDA).
Tina Gunn is the only one left of the three interns on management team formed last summer who is still working at Safari’s. Erica Meredith left at the beginning of August 2012. According to Karri Murphy, she (Karri) left Safari’s at the beginning of January 2013. However, Lori wrote on her Facebook page in a life event titled “Retirement” (and copied to a post on Craigslist, now removed from the site) that the president left two months after the first intern left.
If Lori was uncharacteristically telling the truth in this instance, it would mean that Karri left in October (since Erica left in August). Even if Karri did remain at the park for two to three months longer, it is apparent her level of involvement had changed about halfway through October. It is obvious by the critical comments that Lori wrote about Karri in her “Retirement” post that Lori was casting blame on her (and Erica) for the failure of the new management group’s efforts, ignoring the very basic problem: the inability of Karri to get a USDA license BECAUSE OF LORI and her failures in management of the park and subsequent revocation of license because of her unfitness and a two-year probation, disallowing Lori to have anything to do with Safari’s, if it was to reopen to the public under another person’s/group’s license.
Karri had gone on television at FOX 23’s Good Day Green Country program four times in a row during eight weeks during the summer and fall of 2012, beginning on August 31. (The Safari visits on GDGC were scheduled for every two weeks.) Her last appearance was October 12, 2012—coincidentally, just one day after the date of the USDA’s denial letter. Tina Gunn, Frank Gaddy Jr., and Lori Ensign-Scroggins replaced her place in that role up until mid-February 2013, and then Safari’s visits to the program stopped. In response to an inquiry I wrote to the GDGC program asking why the visits ended, the program’s executive producer Jennifer Harrington responded, “I would prefer to keep that a matter between myself and Safari’s,” which suggests that there is something involved that would be uncomfortable for one or the other party, or both, if that information would become public knowledge.
Again, in an article published in the Tulsa World December 14, 2012, it was Tina Gunn who was interviewed by the reporter, not Karri Murphy, although Karri is mentioned by Tina as still being president of Safari’s. Notice how misleading Gaddy was in his remarks about the park possibly reopening in the spring (even though he and everyone in upper management were aware of the USDA denying the USDA application months before, in a letter stating the group under Karri Murphy would not be able to reapply for a license until a year from the date of the rejection letter, which would be in October of 2013).
Tina Gunn, vice president of the park’s volunteer management group, said she and President Karri Murphy “do not have deep pockets” and that further improvements will be difficult unless the park is sold or finds more donations.
The group has reapplied for a USDA license and would like to reopen in the spring if it can afford any additional work required by the agency’s inspectors.
“We would love to be open in the spring, whether with this management group that’s applied for a license or somebody else that would like to purchase” the park, volunteer Frank Gaddy said. “The goal is to get back open, because then the funding will be there.”
On February 27, 2013, Tina Gunn signed an application for an amended certificate of incorporation for the secondary nonprofit connected to Safari’s (Safari’s Wildlife Sanctuary, Inc.) that removed both Karri Murphy and Erica Meredith as incorporators of the company and established her (Tina) as the new president, Terry Lilly as the vice president, and Kurt Beckelman as the secretary/treasurer. The contact email address given is firstname.lastname@example.org, which is and has been for quite some time, Lori Ensign-Scroggins’ personal email address (as can be easily be proven by typing the email address into an online search and three pages of results will come up, which connect her name to the address, as she used it in online posts frequently). We purchased copies of these documents from the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office. Unfortunately, according to the terms and conditions of using the information, we are unable to publish/post the actual documents online. Anyone can purchase their own set of documents online. Here is the summary page for Safari’s Wildlife Sanctuary, Inc. (set up for the new management team originally, with Karri Murphy, Tina Gunn, and Erica Meredith as incorporators).
Tina Gunn began volunteering at Safari’s in May 2010. It was her first time working with exotic animals. Within a few short months, she was in working up close and personal with the big cats. Tina signed up last springto be one of the three interns who were planning on taking over the management of Safari’s, with owner Lori Ensign-Scroggins supposedly retiring, after the USDA revoked her license. Her position on the board was Vice President, until President Karri Murphy resigned at the beginning of January 2013. Tina is now the president of the secondary nonprofit corporation Safari’s Wildlife Sanctuary, Inc.
It is obvious from those changes that Lori is not distancing herself from the management from the park, only removing the curtain to show she is still very much a part of the operation. She is also president of Safari’s Inc., the longstanding nonprofit corporation originally established in 1996, by Lori and her then-husband Joe Estes, with Joe, Lori, and Lori’s mother Jan Ensign as incorporators. She amended the certificate of incorporation on October 23, 2012, but left all three on as incorporators, even though Joe Estes left their jointly run park in 1998. [more to follow on those two subjects later]
Is there intent to deceive the public by Lori and others at Safari’s that the management team that began last year is still intact or at least allow people to believe that Karri Murphy is still at the helm? Why was there no mention that Karri was leaving Safari’s, when Tina was interviewed mid-December by the Tulsa World reporter? No doubt, Karri was responsible enough to give notice before leaving her position and likely would have by that time. Again, the fact that Tina was the person to respond to the USDA letter in October, to start taking Karri’s place for the TV animal guest spots, and to be the representative of the park to be interviewed by the press in December, not Karri, indicates that all likely knew that Karri was leaving her position and the park (if she wasn’t already gone, for all intents and purposes).
Why would spokesman Frank Gaddy Jr. give out false hope to the public through the media mid-December 2012 about a possibility of Safari’s reopening in the spring of 2013, when, as a longtime intimate of Lori and Safari’s top management, he almost certainly knew what Lori, Karri, and Tina knew—there was no hope of the park reopening.
No public announcement has been made about Karri Murphy’s departure or the new composition of the management structure of Safari’s, other than Lori’s online personal comments.
In fact, in the March 8, 2013, KJRH news article, the following information is given, misleading the public yet again about the potential for the park reopening and implying that the management group as formed last year was still intact:
While plans are in the works to try and re-open the park this year, Safari’s needs donations and volunteers to take care of the animals.
“It’s been hard. I was hoping the transition would go quicker to the new people,” says Ensign. “It just takes time. They are learning. And we are still looking for new people. I’ve gone through all my savings now. So it’s getting scary.”
Erica Meredith volunteered at Safari’s for two years before signing on to be part of the three-member board of the new management at Safari’s, to take over the park from owner Lori Ensign-Scroggins, once Lori’s USDA license revocation became effective August 1, 2012, due to the USDA judging her unfit to hold a license, under the Animal Welfare Act. Erica left Safari’s at the beginning of August 2012 to pursue work with animals at another entertainment spot in the Tulsa area.
Why did Lori imply the management team was still intact in that same KJRH article by indicating that “the transition” to the “new people” was still ongoing? By that time, the certificate of incorporation had already been amended by the OK Secretary of State, removing two of the three original incorporators (Murphy and Meredith) and replacing two spots with longtime Safari’s paid staff park manager Kurt Beckelman and longtime volunteer Terry Lilly. The application had been submitted to the OK Secretary of State at the end of February and signed March 4 by the SOS. What transition was Lori talking about? Does Kurt not know how to run the park he’s supposedly been managing for more than a dozen years?
A new blog “Safari’s Sanctuary – For the Animals” by Micheal Lowther, started this year, ran an article about “volunteer” Tina Gunn, which was published March 18, 2013. Nowhere in that article is there any mention that Tina was president of Safari’s management team now or even that she was lead staff of Safari’s, as she identifies herself as online—she is simply referred to as a volunteer at the park—in an article published a full three weeks after Tina signed her name to the amended certificate of incorporation paperwork as “president” and sent it to the OK SOS, and a full three-and-a-half months after Karri Murphy left Safari’s. Why would Tina not share the information with Micheal (Misha) about the changes in management at Safari’s? Why the lack of transparency?
Is the public being played for fools and being fed false information and pumped for donations of money and time, while evoking sympathy for Lori because of her illness, in the hopes of distracting the general public and supporters of the park from recognizing the true and serious nature of the circumstances surrounding the closure of the park?
One indication that Lori may be getting just a little closer to acknowledging the truth is the change of wording on the home page of Safari’s Sanctuary official website: “Safari’s Sanctuary is a 501c3 private facility of rescue and is closed to the public.” Although on one of the photo slides flashing by on the top of the same page, it does say “We are temporarily closed to the public!”