"We made the arrangements for the ibex to be picked up and, as far as we knew, they were the only animals on the truck," Doherty said, noting that it is quite common for hoof stock to be trucked. "We knew nothing about Zoo Atlanta or the other zoo. . . . I don't know of anyone at Capron Park Zoo. I'd never heard of it before. I knew nothing about a tiger going to the Atlanta zoo."
He added, "It's unfortunate the way it came out."
Dr. Terry Maple, the director of Zoo Atlanta, said his staff had arranged with San Diego to "piggy-back" on the Bronx Zoo's scheduled shipment.
"There was no debate about it. We said, let's use the shipper that's already coming," said Maple, who said that this week he heard for the first time that San Diego would have preferred flying the animals. "I understand (now) that San Diego felt that the shipment of animals should have been flown. That was not an option that we discussed with the sender that I know of."
Branchaud, meanwhile, said that, although he signed off on the choice of the Zoological Animal Exchange, which he had used before, he was not involved in arranging the transport. He said all he knew was what the San Diego Zoo told him--the date he could expect the animals to arrive.
"All I knew is they were coming on that date," he said. "We were just the ones who had to discover the sad news."
"We're extremely upset over the whole business. It hurt us quite a bit," he said. Recently, he said, the San Diego Zoo has replaced one of the dead animals with a healthy sloth bear. It arrived by plane.
The USDA regulations regarding animal transportation specify that live animals be offered fresh water at least every 12 hours and fresh food at least once in each 24 hour period, and that a sufficient quantity of food and water accompany the animal during transit. Drivers are also required to visually observe the animals no less than once every four hours.
The USDA also requires that the owner of the animal, in this case the San Diego Zoo, provide written instructions to the hauler concerning the food and watering requirements of each animal being transported. Jouett said this was done.
"The animals traveled with keeper transfer documents that included their diets and care requirements," he said. "We explained the individual animals' personalities and care requirements to the driver. We offered containers of water, meat, feeds, hay, feline diet and were told by the driver, 'No, thanks, I've got it under control.' "
A spokeswoman for the AAZPA, Karen Asis, said she could not confirm or comment on any formal investigation, but acknowledged that the case "is under serious consideration by the AAZPA." She said the group's ultimate recourse would be to suspend any member found guilty of wrongdoing. But it is unlikely any action could be taken before this fall, she said.
San Diego animal rights activists said the animal deaths raise questions about how well the AAZPA is monitoring its members.
"How many incidents does it take to prove that we must have an independent body to govern Zoo activities," Sally Mackler, director of San Diego Animal Advocates, said in a statement.
Times staff writer Pat McDonnell contributed to this report.