Federal wildlife authorities and three U.S. zoos want a lawsuit against the recent importation of elephants dropped.
Legal concerns about the permit process are irrelevant, because the elephants were flown to the United States earlier this month, they say.
“The zoos acted lawfully under a valid permit to transfer the elephants,” the zoos’ motion to dismiss the case said. “That transfer moots the case.”
But the animal-rights group who sued is adamant the law was violated when the government approved the importation.
Connecticut-based group Friends of Animals sued in February to stop the proposed importation of African elephants to zoos in Dallas, Omaha and Wichita. In March, it was awaiting a hearing on a preliminary injunction when the group got word the move had already begun.
A judge denied the group’s last-minute request for a restraining order to halt the transfer midprocess. So 17 elephants arrived at the Sedgwick County Zoo, the Dallas Zoo and Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium after a transcontinental flight from Swaziland.
These elephants were whisked away at midnight just days before a judge could hear our case. It was a sleazy deal.
Priscilla Feral, Friends of Animals president
“These elephants were whisked away at midnight just days before a judge could hear our case,” said Priscilla Feral, the group’s president. “It was a sleazy deal.”
Friends of Animals has not dropped the lawsuit, saying it needs to make sure elephants aren’t shipped to American zoos in the future. Many conservationists and animal-rights supporters oppose keeping elephants in zoos because they are highly intelligent, migratory animals.
Zoos’, feds’ argument
In their 16-page motion to dismiss the case, the zoos said the sudden transfer was necessary even with an active lawsuit.
Given that the elephants remained in a temporary holding condition, in a country ravaged by drought and a scarcity of food for animals and were being fed at the zoos’ expense, the zoos could not have been expected to wait.
Zoos’ motion to dismiss the case
“Given that the elephants remained in a temporary holding condition, in a country ravaged by drought and a scarcity of food for animals and were being fed at the zoos’ expense, the zoos could not have been expected to wait,” the motion says.
“FoA did not carry out its case as if it were a party seeking to remedy irreparable harm,” the zoos said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which issued the permits, said in a seven-page motion that a ruling now would “amount to nothing more than an advisory opinion.”
The zoos also said the court should not set a precedent regarding future imports based on “a speculative possibility” that such a transfer will happen again.
The Friends of Animals’ response to the court is due on April 13.