Puerto Rico’s lone zoo to be permanently closed after years of complaints

The government is closing the U.S. territory’s only zoo, which has been shut down since hurricanes Irma and Maria battered the island in September 2017 as federal authorities investigate accusations of mistreatment of animals.

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A rhinoceros rests inside an enclosure at the Dr. Juan A. Rivero Zoo in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.

A rhinoceros rests inside an enclosure at the Dr. Juan A. Rivero Zoo in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.

Danica Coto / AP

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Puerto Rico’s government is permanently closing the U.S. territory’s only zoo after years of suspected negligence, a lack of resources and deaths of animals.

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

The permanent closing of the 45-acre zoo was announced as federal authorities investigate accusations of mistreatment of animals.

“Animal welfare comes first,” Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said. “Questions have been raised for a long time.”

U.S. Attorney Stephen Muldrow said in February that experts from The Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado would inspect and evaluate the animals, saying, “The safe and humane care for all zoo animals is a top priority of the Justice Department.”

Sanctuary officials visited the zoo last weekend — a visit that was supposed to have occurred in 2017 before the hurricanes hit, Pat Craig, executive director of The Wild Animal Sanctuary, because of concerns already raised then about the animals.

In February 2018, the U.S. Department of Agriculture canceled the zoo’s exhibitor’s license, citing dozens of violations in previous years. One of those involved a thin tiger that was euthanized. Another was over a distressed cougar living in a cramped space.

Previously, a government-appointed committee had raised concerns about two pumas that died, an underweight chimpanzee and a rhinoceros named Felipe that was limping. It also noted that dozens of animals needed vaccines or physical tests and that a kangaroo and a porcupine were among animals that didn’t have shelter.

Craig said he expects that the Colorado sanctuary would transfer up to 50% of the zoo’s animals at no cost to Puerto Rico’s government but would not take in primates or certain birds given Colorado’s weather.

Activists celebrated the zoo’s impending shutdown.

“We are sorry that all these complaints have taken a long time to be heard,” said Christian Ríos, president of an animal rights commission with Puerto Rico’s Association of Attorneys, calling for those responsible for the past problems to face consequences.

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