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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Muldrow: Driving force behind zoo closure agreement was ‘welfare of the animals’

Mundi the elephant

By The Star Staff

The agreement reached between local and federal authorities for the closure of the Mayagüez Zoo and the transfer of almost 600 animals does not include criminal or civil prosecution against any official or the payment of fines, the head of the federal prosecutor’s office in Puerto Rico, W. Stephen Muldrow, said Wednesday.

Muldrow noted that while allegations of wrongdoing have surfaced over the past 12 years at the zoo, the agreement’s purpose is to ensure the “welfare of the animals.” However, he maintained that the agreement includes a summary of the laws violated for years.

“State and federal investigations led to findings, institutional liability, and violations of the law, but those violations spanned many years, different administrations that could not guarantee the welfare of the animals,” Muldrow said, arguing that the agreement speeds up the transfer of animals without the need for litigation. “Although it was an institutional problem of lack of resources and adequate training to guarantee the welfare of the animals, there was no intentional harm [done] to the animals.”

Muldrow never mentioned that the government had threatened to sue to stop the transfer of the animals.

He noted that the agreement covers the local Department of Justice. Justice Secretary Domingo Emanuelli Hernández, who was at the press conference, did not refute him.

The cost of the transfer of the animals, to be completed in six months, was not provided, and at least two sanctuaries, one in Texas and one in Colorado, will cover the cost, according to the agreement. FEMA would reimburse the money to those institutions.

“This agreement came about because we have been in communication and collaboration to reach a result in which the most important thing is the welfare of the animals,” Muldrow said when answering persistent questions from journalists about the impunity enjoyed by officials who were in charge of the zoo.

“Obviously, we can’t change what happened in the past,” the federal official said. “Animals died, but we believe that helping the animals that are there to have a better life is justice for the animals that died.”

As recently as Feb. 27, a cougar was euthanized due to a cancerous condition in one leg. Still, the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources had not reported it. As for the elephant Mundi, Muldrow noted that it is still uncertain where she will be moved, but he mentioned two possibilities: sanctuaries in Georgia and Tennessee.

“We have reached an agreement that we are on the same page,” he said. “Animal welfare is the number one priority. … The consequences are that we are working together for animal welfare.”

With few exceptions, they would be subject to the transfer, mostly by plane, of 328 animals from the Mayagüez zoo and 206 from the Detention Center in Cambalache, Arecibo.

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