IDA USDA Complaint: Baton Rouge Zoo Elephant Death

IDA USDA Complaint: Baton Rouge Zoo Elephant Death

April 2, 2013

Elizabeth Goldentyer, DVM
Regional Director
USDA-APHIS Animal Care
920 Main Campus Drive, Ste. 200
Raleigh, NC 27606

Dear Dr. Goldentyer:

Please consider this a formal complaint on behalf of In Defense of Animals (IDA) regarding the March 28 or 29, 2013 death of Judy, a 46-year-old Asian elephant, held at Brec’s Baton Rouge Zoo (Cert. No 72-C-0179, Customer No 4769) in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

According to media reports, Judy was “found dead in her enclosure by keepers making their morning rounds.” It is evident that there was no zoo staff monitoring Judy overnight. There are no published reports indicating the cause of Judy’s death, and there is no indication whether her death was protracted or immediate, or whether staff intervention could have prevented Judy’s death or remediated any suffering.

At age 46, Judy’s death was premature, considering the natural life span of Asian elephants is up to 60 years in the wild. According to zoo records, zoo staff treated Judy for arthritis for 30 years, starting when she was just 16 years old. The arthritis was of sufficient severity that Judy was, as of 2007, on medications including Ketaprofen, Ibuprofen, and joint supplements. It is also noted in the records that Judy was not a good candidate for breeding “due to her joints.” It is inconceivable that a zoo would be unaware that arthritis is a major cause of premature death in captive elephants.

According to media reports, Judy had also recently been treated for “some digestive issues that recently cropped up.” Zoo records indicate that Judy “tends to colic.”

It is IDA’s contention that both of these conditions should have been cause for greater vigilance on the part of zoo staff, including some form of nighttime monitoring. It is our further contention that the zoo’s failure to provide nighttime monitoring to an elephant known to have chronic health issues violates provisions of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which provide:

Sec. 2.40 Attending veterinarian and adequate veterinary care (dealers and exhibitors).
(b) Each dealer shall establish and maintain programs of adequate veterinary care that include:
(1) The availability of appropriate facilities, personnel, equipment and services to comply with the provisions of this subchapter;
(2) The use of appropriate methods to prevent, control, diagnose, and treat diseases and injuries, and the availability of emergency, weekend, and holiday care.

Sec. 2.131 Handling of animals.
(a) All licensees who maintain wild or exotic animals must demonstrate adequate experience and knowledge of the species they maintain.
(b)(1) Handling of all animals shall be done as expeditiously and carefully as possible in a manner that does not cause trauma, overheating, excessive cooling, behavioral stress, physical harm, or unnecessary discomfort.

Sec. 3.132 Employees.
A sufficient number of adequately trained employees shall be utilized to maintain the professionally acceptable level of husbandry practices set forth in this subpart. Such practices shall be under a supervisor who has a background in animal care.

IDA urges the USDA to take prompt action to fully investigate the circumstances of Judy’s death, including all medical records and necropsy reports. Should violations of the AWA be found, IDA further urges USDA to take appropriate enforcement action.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.


Nicole Meyer
Director, Wild & Free – Elephant Protection Campaign