STATEMENT FROM APHIS ADMINISTRATOR CINDY SMITH REGARDING THE COMPLAINT SERVED TO FORMER ELEPHANT EXHIBITOR
OCTOBER 29, 2009
Officials from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) have taken the first step in bringing enforcement action against former elephant exhibitor Wilbur Davenport by serving him with a formal legal complaint.
The complaint, served Oct. 21, alleges that Davenport, through his Maximus “Tons of Fun” LLC in Leggett, Texas, committed several violations of the Animal Welfare Act. Alleged violations include: repeated instances in which Davenport failed to handle the elephants as carefully as possible; failure to ensure the safety of the elephants and the public; failure to provide the elephants minimally adequate veterinary care and failure to adequately feed the elephants.
The formal USDA complaint does not mean Davenport is guilty of these allegations. It does, however, require him to formally respond to the allegations.
Davenport had been exhibiting three elephants--Jewel, Tina and Queenie--for years. Our animal care inspectors and investigators were monitoring the elephants’ conditions during that time. On Aug. 20, Davenport surrendered his USDA exhibitor license and APHIS took custody of Tina and Jewel, who had been losing substantial amounts of weight. Tina and Jewel were taken to the San Diego Zoo, where they are now living in the company of other elephants. Queenie remains the legal property of Davenport.
Davenport has 20 days to file an answer to the complaint. Once he files an answer, he can either negotiate a settlement with USDA or request a hearing before a USDA administrative law judge. Possible outcomes at such a hearing include civil penalties and license revocation. If USDA issues a revocation, Davenport would not be allowed to apply for a new license in the future.
APHIS takes the protection of animals very seriously. One of our core missions is to enforce the Animal Welfare Act, which is the federal law that ensures that proper standards of care are met for the humane treatment of animals exhibited to the public. Our veterinarians, animal care inspectors and investigators are deeply committed to making sure that exhibited animals receive appropriate care and exhibitors comply with the Act.
A copy of the complaint is available on the USDA ALJ Web site. Go to http://www.usda.gov/da/oaljdecisions/ and select the Current ALJ Decisions pull-down menu. Then select the appropriate enforcement action. If you are unsure of the specific type of enforcement action that is involved, the Web site also includes an Agriculture Decisions Search Engine to aid you in this regard.