Yellow River Game Ranch closes; Future of southern Groundhog Day - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Yellow River Game Ranch closes; Future of southern Groundhog Day uncertain

General Beauregard Lee, the South's version of Punxsutawney Phil (WGCL) General Beauregard Lee, the South's version of Punxsutawney Phil (WGCL)
LILBURN, GA (CBS46) -

After 55 years on Stone Mountain Highway, it's finally the end for the Yellow River Game Ranch. Exhibits at the petting zoo and wild animal sanctuary span to everything from farm animals to deer, all the way to bears.

Former game ranch manager and landowner Art Rilling is offering to help relocate General Beauregard Lee to a rural spot where he can retire. 

"Just let him live out his life being a groundhog, but they may have some other plans with him," said Rilling.

Beauregard is, of course, the most well-known member of the ranch. Every year, crowds of people come to see his winter predictions on Groundhog Day.

Rilling says all the attractions at the roadside zoo came as donations from people who either found the animals or couldn't care for them anymore.

"We'll take an animal in who's sick or run over, or something, and we'll nurse it back to health," says Rilling. Sometimes they lived, sometimes they didn't, but we always tried..."

Rilling says the shutdown is due to financial problems stemming from gradual lack of visitors, which he blames mostly on bad publicity.

"The animal rights people certainly didn't help it," says Rilling.

Yellow River was a frequent target of attacks from activist groups like PETA, who call it a ramshackle animal prison. They recently highlighted a 2016 state inspection of the ranch which included multiple violations for safety and cleanliness.

"Of course they always phrased it so it sounds very bad, but everything's not black and white, as you well know," says Rilling.

Meanwhile, the Georgia Department of Natural Resources says all the ranch's permits are still good, and the state had no part in forcing the ranch to shut down.

Right now they're working with ranch management to help find the wild animals new homes. 

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