Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

SOLD OUT Not All Zoos Are as Ethically Aware as Jacksonville's. Many Are Selling Their Animals to Those Worst Equipped to Care for Them -- Including Ranches Where They're Hunted for Sport. Major Zoos Stocking Exotic Animal Trade

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

SOLD OUT Not All Zoos Are as Ethically Aware as Jacksonville's. Many Are Selling Their Animals to Those Worst Equipped to Care for Them -- Including Ranches Where They're Hunted for Sport. Major Zoos Stocking Exotic Animal Trade

Article excerpt

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Dozens of the nation's major zoos are breeding animals with no intention of keeping them, fueling a multimillion-dollar trade in which exotic animals wind up as backyard pets, at unaccredited roadside zoos, shot as trophies, or killed for their meat, pelts and hides.

So many surplus animals are born at the zoos -- babies are a big draw to patrons -- that lions and tigers are worth more dead than alive and buying rare monkeys can be as easy in some states as acquiring pure-bred dogs.

A two-year investigation by the San Jose Mercury News newspaper found that of the 19,361 mammals that left the nation's accredited zoos from 1992 through mid-1998, 38 percent went to dealers, auctions, hunting ranches, unidentified individuals or unaccredited zoos and game farms.

Professional dealers, who get most of these animals, often breed them first to produce still more animals for the trade.

Among the zoos contributing to this exotic marketplace are the renowned San Diego Zoo and its sister institution, the San Diego Wild Animal Park, the Miami Metrozoo and Busch Gardens in Tampa.

The most heavily traded species are hoofed animals, such as exotic deer, antelope and gazelle, but the market is active for just about any animal.

Lions and tigers have been declawed and defanged for sale as pets, killed for mounting or, in rare instances, for food. Loin of lion was served at a La Jolla, Calif., restaurant in 1997.

And, while most animals in the trafficking network are not threatened or endangered, some are -- including polar bears that sold for $100, snow leopards and various rare primates.

"Zoos have been very successful breeding grounds for many species ... [and] it's definitely a draw to always have babies on display," said Craig Hoover, program manager with TRAFFIC North America, a wildlife trade monitoring arm of the World Wildlife Fund and the World Conservation Union. "But what do you do with those animals when they're not babies anymore? Certainly the open market is the best place to sell them."

That's a distorted picture, insist officials at accredited zoos and their professional organization, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.

"I feel sure AZA zoos do not contribute to the exotic pet trade," said executive director Sydney Butler. "We have ... an ethics code to make sure animals in our care or that leave our care remain under the best possible care."

The AZA, the membership and accrediting organization for 183 zoos and aquariums in North America, has strong guidelines against selling zoo animals at public auctions, selling into the pet trade, or to hunting ranches, where animals are shot for sport and mounted as trophies.

But AZA officials say they don't have the resources to monitor its members' animal transactions. And the association has never even done an analysis of the International Species Information System, a computer database it helped establish to find out what member zoos do with their surplus.

"There is no way for an animal to be tracked beyond the initial sale, and there is no way that AZA or anybody could be held accountable for offspring down the road," Butler said.

Zoos find it difficult to follow up where their animals go although the AZA requires members to "make every effort to assure that all animals ... do not find their way into the hands of those not qualified to care for them properly."

Officials at the San Diego Zoo and the San Diego Wild Animal Park said releasing information about subsequent transactions would violate the privacy of those who ultimately received the animals.

Buffalo Zoo officials had to contact the dealers to track down where the animals went.

Cincinnati Zoo officials, who said they have transaction forms to be signed by recipients of animals, refused to provide them.

"We always hear about the industry, the zoos and every place else self-regulating," said Kevin Adams, chief of the law enforcement division of the U. …

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