The Cincinnati Zoo is moving ahead with its lawsuit seeking the return of a 37-year-old gorilla from The Gorilla Foundation in California. The zoo filed additional court documents late Thursday in federal court in San Francisco.
Judge Richard Seeborg last month ordered the sides to mediation to work out the dispute. That meeting was held Tuesday, and while neither party is allowed to discuss what happened, it appears the case will continue in court.
"We're going to bring him home," Cincinnati Zoo Director Thane Maynard tells WVXU.
Thursday's filing is a response to The Gorilla Foundation's objection to the zoo's request for a quick decision from the judge. The Cincinnati Zoo is sticking to the legal merits of the case, pointing out The Gorilla Foundation doesn't dispute it is in violation of a contract to return the gorilla named "Ndume."
The Gorilla Foundation (TGF) argues a return would put Ndume's life in jeopardy. The zoo calls this "preposterous and offensive," writing "...the decision that Ndume should move to [the zoo] was carefully made based on complete consideration of Ndume's health and welfare by the very experts TGF agreed would make this decision."
Those experts are zoo officials, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), which accredits such institutions in North America, and the Gorilla Species Survival Plan (GSSP), which regulates North America's captive gorilla population.
The zoo argues The Gorilla Foundation's affirmative defense focusing on Ndume's health is invalid since the AZA and GSSP - the institutions responsible for his health - say he should be returned to Cincinnati.
The Gorilla Foundation is not an AZA-accredited institution. It argues the AZA has blocked its efforts to find additional companions for Ndume at its California sanctuary. The foundation also cites concerns about a health condition and transferring an aging primate.
The zoo argues the GSSP did take concerns about the possible re-emergence of Ndume's B. coli infection - an intestinal protozoan parasite - into consideration and decided the benefits outweighed the risks. Maynard also points out that the zoo's curator of primates, Ron Evans, has experience treating such conditions. The Gorilla Foundation's "affirmative defenses are nothing more than a request that this court step in and second-guess the determination that the GSSP experts have already made regarding Ndume's future," the zoo writes in its filing.
"In terms of the question of health, it's much better for Ndume to live here in a group of other gorillas under professional management and professional veterinary care than it is to live all by himself in California," Maynard tells WVXU.
As for the transfer process, Maynard says "accredited zoos move animals back and forth on a regular basis for breeding reasons. Our zoo has moved gorillas back and forth for those same reasons many times. We take that very seriously and we handle it very carefully. The reason we're going through this whole thing is we're committed to Ndume's well-being."
PETA Joins The Court Case
In a move some might find surprising, PETA - People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals - formally filed a friend of the court brief Thursday on the zoo's behalf.
"PETA is extremely concerned about Ndume's well-being at TGF given its lack of accreditation and transparency, its well-documented history of chronic animal welfare violations, and its solitary confinement of Ndume," PETA writes. It also says the group has been campaigning for Ndume's return for three years and points to warnings by USDA inspectors about Ndume's enclosure at the foundation.
The Gorilla Foundation objects to PETA's inclusion in the case. It filed Friday morning asking the judge to deny PETA's request.
"Both their coordinated public attack on TGF and their coordinated filing in this case, make it clear that in reality, PETA is working as an ally of [the zoo], not an advocate for Ndume," the foundation writes.
The next court hearing is scheduled for Jan. 24. The judge could issue a decision before then.
Ndume was loaned to The Gorilla Foundation in 1991 as a companion for the famous gorilla "Koko." Upon her death, which occurred in June, the contract states Ndume is to be returned to Cincinnati.
The Gorilla Foundation is refusing, arguing Ndume's health would be at risk in a public zoo and they're worried the transfer itself could lead to his premature death.