Wild Animal Orphanage gets ex-lab monkeys –– and $12,000 USDA fine
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1999:
SAN ANTONIO––The USDA Animal and Plant
Health Inspection Service on May 24 announced it had filed
10 charges of violating the Animal Welfare Act against Wild
Animal Orphanage, of San Antonio, Texas–– nine days after
the case was disclosed by San Antonio Express-News staff
writer Russell Gold, and more than two months after the
USDA on March 10 proposed a $12,000 fine and a 90-day
suspension of the WAO exhibitors’ license.
On April 10, WAO founder Carol Azvestas asked
USDA-APHIS to reconsider the penalties, but she told Gold
she would not spend sanctuary money on legal fees to fight
them in court.
The four most serious charges pertained to the
deaths in air transit of two tigers and a puma that Azvestas
accepted from the defunct Walk In The Wild Zoo of
Spokane, Washington, when it went out of business in
August 1996. One puma survived the eight-hour flight.
USDA-APHIS contends that the animals were insufficiently
ventilated and were transported in too-small containers.
Azvestas has acknowledged that they were crowded, because
WAO had expected to receive only three big cats but ended
up getting four. The two pumas were consequently both
placed in the same container. However, Azvestas contends
the deaths resulted from over-sedation by the Walk In The
Wild veterinarian, who “sort of took over” after arriving as
Azvestas herself tried to administer sedation by dart gun.
Azvestas sent ANIMAL PEOPLE copies of the
USDA charges, her own statements, and the necropsy
reports. ANIMAL PEOPLE solicited an outside expert perspective
from Franklin Loew, former dean of the Tufts
University and Cornell University veterinary schools.
Commented Loew, “Tranquilizing or sedating wild
animals remains more an art and less of a science than any
other part of veterinary practice.” Acknowledging that
“Almost every vet who does this sort of work has his/her own
way of doing it,” Loew agreed with the USDA that Azvestas
should have waited for the Walk In The Wild vet instead of
attempting the sedation herself, but he also questioned the
Walk In The Wild vet’s procedure. The necropsy reports,
Loew said, “are virtually meaningless, and in my view, neither
rule out nor point to anything specific.
“I have told students for years that transporting
exotic and wild animals, especially in very cold or very hot
weather, is extremely risky. Thus I equivocate on any guilt
or blame here,” Loew said, noting that the urgency of the
situation required transport under difficult conditions. “It
sounds like a tough penalty,” Loew added. “And yet, three
animals died, and that’s not acceptable.”
Two weeks before revealing the USDA-APHIS
penalty against WAO, Gold both covered and to a considerable
extent raised controversy about WAO housing 94 stumptailed
macacques from a breeding colony formerly kept by
the University of Wisconsin at the Vilas Park Zoo in
Madison, Wisconsin, and expanding to receive 40 more
stump-tails plus 60 sooty mangabeys from the Yerkes
Regional Primate Research Center in Atlanta. Gold suggested
some of the monkeys might have been exposed to the
deadly herpes-B virus, which has recently occurred in rhesus
macacques at Yerkes.