The Humane Society of the United States has filed ethics complaints against the San Diego Zoo and an animal transport company, alleging that both are guilty of "gross negligence" in the treatment of four San Diego Zoo animals that died en route to a Massachusetts zoo in April, officials said.
Lisa Landres, a Humane Society investigator based in Washington, said her office has filed the complaints with the ethics committee of the American Assn. of Zoological Parks and Aquariums (AAZPA), which is looking into the deaths of the four carnivores that were trucked to the Capron Park Zoo in Attleboro, Mass.
In addition, she said, the HSUS has filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Agriculture for alleged violations of federal animal welfare regulations.
"San Diego (Zoo) made an unwise choice," Landres said, explaining that she believes carnivores of this type--a fishing cat, a sloth bear and two palm civets--should be shipped by air, not by truck. "It's a combination of making a very bad choice and then having a transporter who obviously did not feed or water the animals. . . . The whole thing was preventable. We're talking gross negligence."
San Diego Zoo officials, who on Wednesday had expressed outrage over the animals' treatment and called for an AAZPA investigation of the shipper, the Zoological Animal Exchange, on Thursday rejected the suggestion that they were partly to blame.
"The facts are that 13 healthy animals were put on a truck in San Diego, and four of those arrived dead on the East Coast," said Jeff Jouett, a zoo spokesman. "The issue is the quality of care received in transit, not whether the animals went by plane or by truck. The hauler was licensed by the USDA, was registered with the AAZPA, and came with good references from zoos who had used them before."
He added: "Lisa Landres has no experience moving carnivores of any type for the San Diego Zoo. And it's disappointing but predictable to see a lobbying organization like HSUS take a stance without knowing the facts or having an understanding of the issues involved."
Landres, a one-time San Diego Zoo elephant keeper, resigned last fall because, she said, the zoo was punishing her for being outspoken about the beating of the elephant Dunda in 1988. She said Thursday that her former employer is passing the buck.
"San Diego needs to take a little responsibility here," she said. "They knew this was a bad decision. Ultimately, they were their animals. They are the ones who loaded them on the truck. They were responsible."
The four animals that died were part of a larger shipment hauled by the Zoological Animal Exchange, a hauler based in Natural Bridge, Va. On the same truck were several other San Diego Zoo animals, including six Nubian ibex, a wild goat species, for the Bronx Zoo in New York and a Sumatran tiger for Zoo Atlanta in Georgia.
Spokesmen for the Bronx Zoo and Zoo Atlanta said Thursday that their animals arrived in good condition and have remained healthy. But Dennis Branchaud, the superintendent of parks in Attleboro, Mass., who oversees the Capron Park Zoo, said that, when the truck pulled up in late April, his staff was horrified to find their four animals, a gift from the San Diego Zoo, dead of apparent dehydration.
A woman who answered the telephone at the Zoological Animal Exchange said the company's owner, Eric Mogensen, would not comment on the complaints.
Jouett said a San Diego Zoo curator had recommended that the animals be flown instead of trucked--a process that is generally believed to be less stressful for animals that are traveling long distances--but that the three receiving zoos did not heed that recommendation.
"We fly animals whenever possible. It is our preference. But it is not always possible," he said. "But to say that carnivores shouldn't be trucked is ridiculous. The pertinent issue is how the animal is cared for from point A to point B. Whether it is eating meat or eating hay has absolutely nothing to do with it."
The San Diego Zoo and Wild Animal Park is the largest mover of zoo animals in the world, Jouett said. Last year, the zoo alone moved 410 mammals. Two died, both of them herbivores.
"We've used trucks, planes, boats, and animals arrive alive and well if the transporter is qualified, competent and experienced," Jouett said. "We had every indication and reason to believe when the driver left here that the animals were in capable hands. Our impression now is that is not the case."
James Doherty, the general curator of the Bronx Zoo, said that his staff had arranged to transport only the ibex via the Zoological Animal Exchange, which he had used before.