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L.A. Zoo had to pay federal fine over animal deaths

The $3,281 payment was made as part of a 2008 settlement with the USDA over the 2006 deaths of a popular Asian elephant and a chimpanzee. The zoo did not admit to wrongdoing.

July 21, 2009|Carla Hall

The Los Angeles Zoo paid a federal fine of several thousand dollars in the wake of a U.S. Department of Agriculture investigation into the 2006 deaths of the zoo's popular female Asian elephant, Gita, and a chimpanzee, Judeo, zoo officials confirmed Monday.

Gita was found down in her enclosure early one morning in June 2006 and could not be saved despite extensive veterinary intervention.

It was later discovered that a night staffer had been informed the evening before that Gita was down but did not report it.

The $3,281 fine was paid in January 2008, according to Jason Jacobs, a zoo spokesman. But the judgment became public Monday when an animal welfare organization, In Defense of Animals, released a recent letter from a USDA official noting that the zoo had been investigated and fined.

Jacobs made available on Monday the zoo's 2008 settlement agreement with the USDA, which enforces the Animal Welfare Act. The agreement says the zoo "failed to assure an elephant received veterinary care in adequate time. Elephant Gita was found in an awkward position around 9 p.m., and veterinarians were not alerted to Gita's condition until around 5 a.m. the next day."

It also said the zoo did not provide veterinary care "in a timely matter" to the chimpanzee, Judeo, who in July 2006 was bitten on the right hand by a rattlesnake. (The snake found its way into the enclosure from Griffith Park.) The chimp exhibit has been praised for its extensive landscaping. But in this case, the USDA cited the zoo for "failure to restrict other animals from entering the non-human primate enclosures."

Signing the agreement did not mean the zoo was admitting the violations. "We wanted to move ahead, and the best way to do that was by settling," Jacobs said.

He defended the zoo's care of both animals, saying Gita had been meticulously nursed through delicate foot surgery in the year before her death. He called the chimp incident a "freak accident" and said "every effort was made to save that animal's life."

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carla.hall@latimes.com

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