Judge Temporarily Bars Zoo From Collecting Extra Fee For Panda Exhibit
WASHINGTON (AP) _ A federal judge on Friday barred the Toledo Zoo from charging people an extra $2 fee to view two giant pandas on loan from China pending a full hearing on a suit arguing the exhibit should be closed because it exploits the endangered animals.
U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson granted a preliminary injunction sought by the World Wildlife Fund and the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums, which want the pandas returned to China and their import permit invalidated.
The zoo has been exhibiting the pandas - named Le Le and Nan Nan - since since May 24 after receiving an import permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Federal laws state that endangered animals may be imported only if the importation is for ″purposes which are not detrimental to the survival of the species″ and the animals are ″not to be used for primarily commercial purposes.″
The wildlife fund contended the permit should not have been issued because the zoo’s plans did not meet either requirement.
In issuing the preliminary injunction, Johnson said there was no evidence the Fish and Wildlife Service even considered the commercial nature of the exhibition and that the agency had not been aware the zoo was charging a special fee to view the pandas.
Johnson said the wildlife fund had ″demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits on this issue.″ A full hearing will be scheduled later.
Curtis Bohlen, the wildlife fund’s senior vice president, hailed the judge’s ruling, saying it ″recognizes that these short-term exhibition loans are basically commercial ventures which do not further the propagation of the species and are detrimental to the pandas’ survival.″
Ellen Efros, an attorney for the zoo, had argued before Johnson on Monday that the separate admission fee for the panda exhibit was established only for financial accountability purposes.
Ms. Efros said closing the exhibit would rob the public of a chance to view an endangered species and learn something about China. In addition, she said it could have a potentially harmful effect on U.S.-Chinese relations.
In exchange for the chance to exhibit the pandas for three months as part of Toledo’s 150th anniversary celebration, the zoo promised China a minimum of $300,000 in equipment and vehicles as well as future joint activities with a panda reserve in China.
James Kilbourne, an attorney for the wildlife service, had told Johnson that the agency determined that import of the pandas would not be detrimental to their survival and that while the exhibit would have some commercial trappings, it was not primarily for commercial purposes.