YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The State

Louisiana Verdict May Cost San Diego Zoo $2.28 Million

June 04, 2003|Tony Perry | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — A jury in Louisiana has awarded $2.28 million to a former exotic-animal dealer who claimed his business was ruined after officials at the San Diego Zoo falsely accused him of selling a rare species of goat to a hunting ranch in Texas.

The Baton Rouge jury on Friday agreed with Jack McCartney, former owner of the Southern Exposure Wildlife refuge, in his defamation suit against the nonprofit zoological society that runs the world acclaimed zoo and Wild Animal Park. Zoo officials said Tuesday that an appeal is planned.

The controversy began in 1998 when zoo officials received information that they believed showed that McCartney had sold a Siberian ibex to a hunting ranch. McCartney had acquired the animal from a Louisiana couple who had received three ibexes from the zoo in exchange for a rare plant collection.

As part of the exchange agreement, the zoo had required the couple -- as well as anyone else buying or receiving one of its animals -- to pledge not to permit them to be sold or given to hunting ranches, auction houses or other "inappropriate" venues.

"It's been a nightmare," McCartney said from his home in Pride, La. "I enjoyed what I did. We had one of the nicest facilities in the country. We wanted to help zoos until San Diego destroyed me."

During a three-day civil trial in state court, McCartney's lawyer provided evidence that other zoos severed ties with McCartney after San Diego officials accused him of selling the ibex. The San Diego Zoo sued McCartney over the issue but the case was dropped.

Zoo officials declined to discuss specifics of the case.

The zoo sells, swaps or transfers hundreds of animals each year, often to other zoos for breeding purposes but also to private parties that are not part of the American Zoological Assn. and thus not subject to its regulations on the treatment of animals.

The issue of what happens to animals after they leave the zoo or Wild Animal Park has flared into controversy periodically. In the early 1990s, for example, the zoo, stung by news accounts, quickly severed ties with two animal breeders after an animal-rights group revealed that one ran a "hunting ranch" and another had sold animals to such a ranch.

Protective of the zoo's reputation as a leader in the preservation and revival of endangered or threatened species, officials say they are "zealous" in making sure that surplus animals are not mistreated by their new owners.

The Zoological Society is developing programs to reintroduce into the wild the Slender horned gazelle, Scimitar horned oryx, Bongo antelope and Addra gazelle, among other species.

Other programs have resulted in the reintroduction of the Arabian oryx, Pzrewalski's wild horse, Cuban iguana and California condor. Just last week the zoo announced that it had helped establish a national park and ecological reserve in Bakossiland, Cameroon.

At the 1,800-acre Wild Animal Park, in the San Pasqual Valley 25 miles north of the zoo, the Zoological Society has 37 Siberian ibexes, a species native to Afghanistan and Turkey. The population is expected to increase in the next few days as females give birth, a zoo spokeswoman said.

McCartney said that he still has the two female ibexes but that the male died several years ago. He said he also has the 170-acre refuge but now makes his living through horse and cattle breeding, not exotic animals.

Los Angeles Times Articles