This week the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the unit of the United States Department of Agriculture that is responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, made available on its website thousands of reports from inspections at circuses, roadside zoos and commercial animal breeders and dealers. To access the inspection reports, visit the APHIS website here.
The move is great news for anyone concerned with government transparency, and will be a boon for animal advocates. ARFF spent some time this week reviewing inspection reports from exhibitors in Florida. Click the link below to find out what we learned.
We learned about a dangerous incident at Paradise Gardens, a fruit and vegetable farm in Naples. On January 24, 2009, a caretaker was attacked by a capuchin monkey. The caretaker was changing out the food bowl when the capuchin escaped from the enclosure and “immediately began to attack the caretaker biting her on her right leg and lower arm.” The caretaker’s wounds required several sutures. According to the APHIS inspection report, the caretaker had worked at Paradise Gardens for less than 2 months, had no experience with non-human primates and had received little training (”The licensee gave the caretaker a book about non-human primates for education”). We’ll never know why the monkey attacked, but maybe the answer lies in earlier inspection reports where it was noted that animals at Paradise Gardens were living in filthy, barren enclosures.
We also read about an April 10, 2009 inspection of the Liebel Family Circus (a.k.a. Liebling Bros. Circus) during a performance at the Lake Buena Vista Factory Stores in Orlando. On the 10th, ARFF activists were outside the outlet mall protesting the circus and in defense of an African elephant named Nosey. The APHIS inspector wrote in the report about the tight chains around Nosey’s ankles, “This elephant could not make any movements forward or backward, and is only restricted to movements only a few feet from side to side.” The inspector also recommended that the circus remove a shovel, ladder and wheel-barrow that was crammed into a small travel trailer with the elephant.
In February 2009 when APHIS arrived at the Sorrento, Florida property of Mitchel Kalmanson, they found serious recordkeeping problems. According to the inspection report, “The inventory records indicate that Shakanna (aka angel) is a male when in fact she is a female. Petra is identified as a male on the inventory, but Mike indicates that she is a female. Several of the tigers have 2 different names for the same animal, and each employee may identify the same animal by a different name, which may not be listed on the inventory or other records. During the inspection, Mike could not identify several tigers, and in other cases, gave names that did not appear on the inventory or have been given to other tigers.” It would be funny if it wasn’t so important for APHIS to be able to track the welfare of individual animals. This is especially important when dealing with Mitchel Kalmanson. In 2006, horribly inadequate diets led to the death of one lion cub and the hospilization of another at his property. Perhaps most concering about the February inspection report is a note about missing tigers, “Thirteen tigers are not at the licensee’s facility, and are reportedly in travel status in Mexico.”
Of all the USDA-licensed exhibitors in Florida, a traveling animal exhibit called Vanishing Species may be the one that APHIS inspectors dread most. Following a January 14, 2009 inspection, APHIS noted an unusually high mortality rate at Vanishing Species: “47 regulated animals were inspected at this facility during the last routine inspection which occurred in September, 2007. To date, 9 of these animals died according to the licensee. Four prairie dogs housed at ground level drowned during Hurricane Faye; an adult female leopard,”Meesha” was found dead; “Grumples” an older male, cougar was found dead; an adult serval was found dead; an adult bobcat was found dead; an adult male lion was found dead….These statistics do not include other animals which were acquired after the September 2007 inspection and subsequently died prior to this inspection. A young leopard was euthanized by a veterinarian for unknown reasons and a young lion suffered head trauma which resulted in death.” Click here to read a recent South Florida Sun-Sentinel article about problems at Vanishing Species. On July 8, 2009, Vanishing Species’ president Barbara Harrod will appear in court in Fort Lauderdale to answer charges of violating state captive wildlife regulations, including “unlawful housing of wildlife.”