Los Angeles Times

Federal officials to halt Puerto Rico zoo inquiries


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Federal authoritie­s said Wednesday that they are dropping all investigat­ions into Puerto Rico’s lone zoo, where various species have died, after reaching an agreement with the local government to transfer the animals to sanctuarie­s in the U.S. mainland.

The announceme­nt angered many activists who have long fought to have the U.S. territory’s government held responsibl­e for the deaths and ill health of animals reported for more than a decade at the Dr. Juan A. Rivero Zoo in the western town of Mayaguez.

“We cannot change what happened in the past,” U.S. Atty. Stephen Muldrow said. “Animals died.”

However, he stressed that going to court would only delay the transfer of the zoo’s remaining animals, which number about 300 and include a tarantula and an elephant.

“The well-being of the animals is the No. 1 priority,” Muldrow said at a news conference.

He added that violations at the zoo spanned “many years,” with “different administra­tions not being able to guarantee the well-being of animals.”

He said it was an institutio­nal problem as well as a lack of resources: “There was no intentiona­l damage to the animals.”

But activists say that ending the federal investigat­ions means impunity prevailed and that no justice will be served for the animals that died or fell ill.

“We were demanding that the federal government do its job: investigat­e violations,” said Christian Ríos, an attorney and president of an animal rights commission at Puerto Rico’s Assn. of Attorneys. “This leaves a bad taste in our mouths.”

In the last decade, a government-appointed committee noted two pumas died and raised concerns about an underweigh­t chimpanzee, a rhinoceros named Felipe who was limping and a lack of shelter for animals including a kangaroo and a porcupine.

In January, an American black bear named Nina who had stopped eating died of a heart attack at more than 20 years old. Captive black bears can live up to 35 years.

Meanwhile, officials last week had to euthanize a puma that was diagnosed with cancer, Muldrow said.

He said nearly all the animals will be transferre­d within the next six months, noting that two eagles were already removed because the zoo was not licensed to care for them, and that two owls and two anacondas also have been transferre­d elsewhere on the island.

This month, Pat Craig, executive director of the Wildlife Animal Sanctuary in Colorado and Texas, told the Associated Press that the organizati­on would take in up to 50% of the zoo’s animals.

However, it’s still unknown where certain animals, including the lone elephant named Mundi, will end up. Muldrow said officials are trying to find an elephant sanctuary since pachyderms are a social species and should be kept in groups.

The zoo, which opened in 1954, has remained closed since September 2017.

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