USDA facilitates animal suffering at Cricket Hollow Zoo

Delcianna J. Winders, Academic Fellow, Animal Law & Policy Program, Harvard Law School

This piece originally appeared in the Des Moines Register

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has again renewed the license that chronic animal welfare violator Cricket Hollow Zoo, in Manchester, needs to operate. The agency renewed this license despite recently documenting numerous violations and, indeed, documenting nearly 100 violations over the past three years. The agency renewed this license just months after a judge held that Cricket Hollow was likely to cause serious death or injury to animals. The agency renewed this license despite a pending enforcement action. The agency is complicit in Cricket Hollow’s abuse and neglect of dozens of animals.

CHZ primate
©Tracey Kuehl

To understand the conditions at Cricket Hollow that the Department of Agriculture allows to continue by its re-licensing, consider the following violations, documented by the agency on one day:

  • Various species were held with no ventilation and “a strong, foul odor of fecal waste and ammonia”;
  • No plan existed to address the distress of a baboon who paced incessantly and “repeatedly tossed his head back,” both “abnormal behaviors” indicative of distress;
  • Multiple animal enclosures “were severely muddy with large areas of standing water,” forcing numerous to stand in water and/or thick mud, some of whom had “mud/wet fur extending up the entire length of their legs”;
  • Numerous animals were confined with excessive flies and built-up waste.

Automatic license renewals also endanger humans. Without licenses, facilities couldn’t exhibit animals, and many of the violations put the public at risk. Cricket Hollow has repeatedly been cited for violations related to public endangerment, including holding dangerous animals like lions, bears and baboons in structurally unsound cages that could allow escape. One of Cricket Hollow’s owners was flown to a hospital after being attacked by a tiger and suffering lacerations to his head and torso.

Years ago, the Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General flagged automatic license renewal as a serious problem causing increased animal suffering and undermining the Animal Welfare Act’s purposes. In response to the Inspector General’s plea that it reform its licensing practices, the agency claimed that it was legally required to automatically renew licenses.

Developments in the law leave no question that the Department of Agriculture is not required to automatically renew licenses, and that it can condition renewal on compliance. Numerous federal courts have held that the Animal Welfare Act can be read to require compliance with the law before renewal.

Still, the agency clings to an outmoded model of licensing. While many agencies have adopted efficient, informal procedures for licensing, the Department of Agriculture continues to give full, trial-type hearings for every licensing and other Animal Welfare Act decision. This slow, antiquated approach wastes resources and results in serious delays that prolong animal suffering.

In August the Animal Welfare Act will turn 50, and it’s past time for the agency to heed calls to stop facilitating violations of the law and animal suffering through automatic license renewal.

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Elephant Death at San Diego Zoo Launches Calls for a USDA Investigation

Coral Strother

On the morning of November 17, 2011, Umoya, a 21 year old African Elephant, who was a part of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park was found lying on the ground by zoo caretakers.  She had severe injuries and could not get up.  Umoya passed away before veterinary assistance could be provided.  Although the cause of death has not been determined and autopsy results could take weeks to come back, zoo officials believe the wounds were inflicted by an “aggressive interaction” with another elephant.

Umoya was born in the Kruger National Park and was one of the seven original elephants rescued from Swaziland in 2003.  In 2007, Umoya gave birth to a female calf, Phakamile, and in 2010, gave birth to a male calf, Emanti, which brought the San Diego herd now up to 18 elephants in total.  On the day Umoya died, San Diego zoo caretakers gave the herd time to mourn her death, something elephants, both in the wild and in captivity, are known to do.  Umoya stood out in the San Diego herd as being one of the most dominant females and as being the only elephant in the exhibit who walked backwards. Continue reading

A Day at the Zoo

Jessica Witmer

Recently I went to the Bronx Zoo where I was able to see first hand, all different types of wild animals, ranging from grizzly bears to polar bears.  Aside from visiting a zoo I will most likely never experience seeing these wild animals first hand.  However, seeing these animals outside of their natural habitat made me think about whether it is ethical to confine a wild animal to a synthetic version of its natural habitat.  In the past zoos were seen as a source of entertainment and their missions were to make profits.  In contrast, today zoos purport that their role has transformed into one of promoting conservation by providing educational and scientific mechanisms.  If a zoos role is what it claims to be, they can become a crucial source in saving species from the brink of extinction.  With increasing threats to wildlife in their natural habitats, it is becoming more important to find ways to sustain populations.  Continue reading

How About You?

 Seth Victor

I am in San Diego, CA, a legendary city named after majestic sea creatures. I’ve enjoyed some of the great sights, but I would have been remiss not to visit the “World Famous” San Diego Zoo. I did so with some hesitation (and with a certain singer in my head). I was previously under the impression that the San Diego Zoo was more like a wildlife safari, where the people are in the cage moving in the environment. I was disappointed to find out that it is not. The Wild Animal Park of which I was thinking is a totally different place. The zoo is a rather nice zoo. It emphasises its conservation of endangered and threatened species. Zoos, however, are a contentious issue for many in the animal rights world. The question is whether animal exploitation is acceptable when the purpose is to bring the animals closer to humans. That’s a simplistic way of phrasing it, since circuses also bring animals closer to people, but are not something to celebrate. Yet many view the boredom and enclosed lives of animals in zoos just as poorly, arguing that media sources such as documentaries bring animals to life in a way that does not cause them suffering. 

Continue reading

Thinking About Elephants

Bruce Wagman

I have been thinking about elephants.  The recent disappointing judgment in the hard-fought Ringling Brothers case is really only one reason.  I’ve been involved in a few nonlitigation matters trying to help make life better for elephants in zoos in different states, have visited the elephants at PAWS in California, and have spent many hours watching the amazing interactions and overwhelming magic of hundreds of elephants in several Tanzanian parks.  There are many elephant experiences that stand out in my mind, including on the one hand one long heating-up morning when we spent about two hours watching about 220 elephants of all ages and sizes (as best as we could count) in one spot in Tarangire National Park, and on the other being shocked into outrage when I learned about the crushing pain they suffer by virtue of almost every confinement situation in America, the literal disintegration of their foot bones as they are forced to stand on them, in some of the worst pain one could imagine, without any relief.  When it comes to elephants in zoos and circuses, the news is grim. 

I had to learn the science of elephants for my job, and that requirement is one of the fantastic things about practicing animal law, especially for someone like me.  That is, in order to do a good job, I am compelled to learn not just the law, but often the biology, physiology, psychology and behaviors of whatever species is at the center of the case I am litigating.  For me that is turning work into fun or at least intellectual exploration, which is fun for a law geek like me.  Because there are “cat people” and “dog people” and “chimp people;” and when on safari in Africa some people mainly want to see the big cats; others the birds.  There is an inherent speciesism, just like when we pet a cat and eat a cow, or think it is bad to eat dog because we do not do it, but it is okay to eat a pig because we do.  But I’m a garbage-can animal lover, meaning I love them all.  So when I am in Africa, ask me what I want to see, and I don’t care, as long as it’s wild.  People say warthogs are ugly and I think they are beautiful, perfect.  And when I am home ask if I prefer my dogs or cats, and my response is: “anything nonhuman will do, I love them all.”  So the requirement that I learn about some species or other is just a joy, and something I have done literally dozens of times over the course of my career.  And you really cannot adequately litigate for animals if you don’t understand them – as well as the law.  Continue reading

Habeas for Chimps

David Cassuto

I will soon be blogging from Brazil (Rio de Janeiro, to be precise).  More about that soon.  While in Rio, here‘s a case I’ll be following:

Jimmy is a 26 year old chimpanzee who has spent several years alone in a cage, where he’s on exhibit at a zoo in Niterói, Brazil, just outside of Rio de Janeiro.  Just last week, animal protection groups filed a motion to have Jimmy released on grounds of Habeas Corpus, arguing that he is being denied his rights to freedom of movement and to a decent life, in Rio’s Criminal Court.  Continue reading