Defending the Way forward for Animal Mortgage Contracts – Litigation, Mediation and Arbitration

United States:

Protect the future of animal loan contracts

June 05, 2021

Taffeta Stettinius & Hollister

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Ndume the gorilla returns to Cincinnati. back

In 1991, the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden (the Zoo) awarded Ndume, a western lowland gorilla, to the Gorilla Foundation in Woodside, California. For the next 26 years he was the companion of Koko, a gorilla famous for her sign language. After Koko’s death, the loan agreement required that Ndume be taken to a suitable zoo to coexist with other gorillas. When Koko died in June 2018, Ndume was left unaccompanied. Since gorillas are intelligent and very social animals, they should not be isolated from other gorillas. According to the loan agreement, it was decided that Ndume would return to the zoo.

The challenge

The Gorilla Foundation refused to continue the transfer because Ndume was too old to ship and would likely die if returned to Cincinnati. The zoo decided to go to federal court to get Ndume back so he could be at the zoo with other gorillas. Animal loan agreements are critical to protecting endangered species in human care. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums and Humans for the Ethical Treatment of Animals has strongly encouraged and supported the zoo’s position.

Taffeta in action

The zoo filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in October 2018, attempted mediation in the first week of January, and won a summary judgment in February 2019 – exactly 100 days from complaint to judgment. In preparation for the mediation and the summary judgment, Taft coordinated the collection of expert opinions from several internationally recognized primate experts according to a compressed schedule. After negotiating a transfer agreement and an order enforced through two other court orders obtained by Taft, Ndume returned to the zoo in June 2019 without incident.

Results & Impact

The zoo received praise from its peer zoos for handling the lawsuit. Dan Ashe, President of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said, “When Ndume needed a lawyer, they stood up, spoke up, and acted boldly.”

It is of great value to all endangered species in human care to ensure that animal rental contracts are properly enforced. Had the terms of this loan agreement not been confirmed, the ability of zoos and other institutions to care for and protect gorillas and other endangered species could have been impaired. That litigation was remarkable both in terms of its theme – a 350-pound gorilla – and the speed at which the Taft team took the zoo’s complete victory.

According to the zoo, Ndume is now satisfied and adapts well to his surroundings.

The content of this article is intended to provide general guidance on the subject. Expert advice should be sought regarding your specific circumstances.

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