Puerto Rico will close its only zoo after long-running complaints

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Puerto Rico is closing its only zoo in the US territory after years of suspected neglect, lack of resources and animal deaths highlighted by activists.

The Dr. Juan A. Rivero Zoo in the western coastal town of Mayaguez has remained closed since hurricanes Irma and Maria hit the island in September 2017, with activists questioning the plight of the zoo’s more than 300 animals and their future.

The Puerto Rican government announced the permanent closure of the 45-acre zoo on Monday as federal authorities investigate allegations of animal abuse.

“The welfare of animals comes first,” said the Gov. Pedro Pierluisi with reporters. “Questions have been raised for a long time.”

Earlier this month, US Attorney Stephen Muldrow announced that experts from The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado would inspect and evaluate the animals, saying that “the safe and humane care of all zoo animals is a priority for the Department of Justice.”

Sanctuary officials visited the zoo on Sunday — a visit that was supposed to have taken place in 2017 before the hurricanes hit, sanctuary executive director Pat Craig told The Associated Press, noting that people were already concerned about the animals. at that point.

“The zoo is definitely degraded,” he said. “You can imagine the facilities were overgrown and obsolete to some extent.”

He said the animals were mostly healthy enough to travel, although he noted that the mountain lion has a growth on one arm that veterinarians are still investigating.

Craig also said he was concerned about the zoo’s lone chimpanzee because apes need socialization.

He declined to provide more details, saying he was limited in what he could share given the involvement of the US Department of Justice. However, he said the team did not find anything that required immediate attention.

In February 2018, the US Department of Agriculture revoked the zoo’s exhibitor license after citing numerous violations in previous years, including a thin tiger being euthanized and a disturbed cougar living in a confined space.

Previously, a committee appointed by the government was concerned about two puma that died, an overweight chimpanzee and a rhinoceros named Felipe who was dying. He also noted that many of the animals needed vaccinations or physical tests, and that a kangaroo and a porcupine were among the animals without shelter.

In January, officials announced that a more than 20-year-old American black bear named Nina died of unspecified health complications after she stopped eating. Necropsy results have not been released. Black bears can live up to 35 years in captivity.

Craig, with The Wildlife Sanctuary, said he estimates his group will relocate up to 50% of the zoo’s animals at no cost to the Puerto Rican government. However, they would not take primates or rare birds because of Colorado’s weather.

Puerto Rico’s Department of Natural Resources has said it is cooperating with relocation plans and the ongoing investigation at the zoo, which opened in 1954.

“We have not given up on the search for alternatives so that there is the best possible care and safety for all the species that live there,” said the secretary of the Department, Anaís Rodríguez, who noted that it was not until four years since then. the agency took over responsibility for the zoo.

Activists celebrated the zoo’s impending closure, including Christian Ríos, who is also president of the Puerto Rican Bar Association’s animal rights commission. He asked that there be full transparency as officials prepare for the transfer of certain animals.

“We are not letting our guard down,” Ríos said, adding that those responsible should face the consequences. “We are sorry that it has taken so long to hear all these complaints.”

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