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Group Wants Animal Kingdom Probe

June 10, 1998

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) _ Calling a prior investigation a ``whitewash,″ an animal rights group Tuesday asked federal agents for another probe into the deaths of at least 30 animals at Disney’s newest theme park, Animal Kingdom.

In a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida said the animal deaths violated the federal Animal Welfare Act.

The USDA in April cleared Disney of any wrongdoing for the death of 29 animals, including cheetah cubs, otters, rhinoceros and a hippo at the park between September and April. The causes ranged from maternal neglect to fights among animals trying to establish territory or dominance.

The USDA report said there is still no explanation for the deaths of the cheetahs from kidney failure last December. Ethylene, an ingredient used in antifreeze and solvents, was found in their systems.

Since the report’s results were released April 22, on Animal Kingdom’s opening day, a 13-year-old hippo died of bacterial pneumonia.

``Not only does the result of the investigation have the appearance of a whitewash, but the announcement ... on the same day as the park’s opening is extremely coincidental,″ attorney Timothy Ross said in the letter.

USDA spokesman Jamie Ambrosi said the agency was awaiting the necropsy report on the 13-year-old hippo before deciding whether to begin another investigation.

``Whether we initiate any action depends on the information contained in it,″ Ambrosi said.

Disney spokeswoman Diane Ledder couldn’t be reached for comment.

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