Disney says animal deaths coincidental

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Disney, which produced “Bambi” and “The Lion King,” is being scrutinized over the deaths of several animals at its newest theme park.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating Walt Disney World in the deaths of four cheetah cubs, two rhinos, two hippos and four other creatures at or en route to the entertainment giant’s new Animal Kingdom.
“This isn’t a movie they’re making, this is real life,” said Joe Taksel, a spokesman for the Animal Rights Foundation of Florida.
Taksel’s group plans a protest at the April 22 opening of the park, which will feature 1,000 exotic animals.
Disney is under pressure to put the final touches on the $800 million, 500-acre theme park. It will fly in 5,000 reporters, analysts and travel planners for the opening.
USDA spokesman Jim Rogers said the investigation was started after the agency received an anonymous tip, but he wouldn’t say what inspectors are looking for.
The USDA, which has the power to fine an animal exhibitor or take away its license, had previously reviewed most of the deaths and found no violations of federal animal welfare regulations.
Disney officials said Wednesday they’ve done nothing wrong.
“We know that our animals receive the best care, live in a superior habitat and are cared for by a highly qualified and dedicated team of animal care experts,” said Disney spokesman Bill Warren.
Top conservation groups, including Wildlife Conservation Society, are behind the project. State regulators also cleared the park this week in the deaths.
“Certainly 12 animals dying is a concern, but then again you need to look at the circumstances and none of these circumstances were related,” said Capt. Jerry Thompson, statewide inspections coordinator for the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission. “The way they died was not unusual for captive wildlife.”
Last September, a female black rhinoceros died from a perforated intestine caused by a stick the animal had eaten. Disney said the animal ate the stick before coming to Animal Kingdom.
The four cheetahs died in late December of kidney failure; ethylene, an ingredient used in antifreeze and solvents, was found in their systems. Disney said the cubs had only been at Animal Kingdom for a few days.
A female hippopotamus died in February from multiple infections after being there for only a few weeks. The infections were probably caused earlier, Disney said.
A 48-year-old hippopotamus died of cardiac arrest in March while it was being transported from an Oklahoma City zoo to Animal Kingdom. Also last month, a white rhino died after being anesthetized during an examination.
In late February and early March, two West African crown cranes were accidentally run over by Disney tour trucks. Also last month, two Asian small-clawed otters died after eating a large quantity of seeds in loquat fruit, which they don’t usually eat.