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Cincinnati Zoo Wants Judge To Enforce A June 13 Transfer Date For Gorilla Ndume

Courtesy of The Gorilla Foundation

A dispute between the Cincinnati Zoo and The Gorilla Foundation continues despite a federal judge's ruling earlier this week. The zoo Thursday filed with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco asking that Judge Richard Seeborg enforce a transfer date of June 13 for a gorilla named "Ndume."

In an order late Thursday, Judge Seeborg gives The Gorilla Foundation until noon on Friday (3 p.m. Eastern) to file any opposition.

"Defendants are advised, consistent with the prior order, that absent a compelling showing going beyond that previously presented, plaintiff's proposed order for transfer on June 13, 2019 will be signed and filed by 5:00 p.m. on June 7, 2019."

Seeborg issued an order Wednesday stating "the expectation remains that Ndume will be transferred no later than June 30, 2019, if safe, but at such earliest possible time that is both practical and safe."

In its Thursday filing the zoo claims The Gorilla Foundation is refusing to agree on a proposed transfer date of June 13. It includes emails between the zoo's curator of primates, Ron Evans, and the foundation's Christa Nunes. In the emails, Evans requests a June 13 transfer date and Nunes demurs, citing the concerns of the foundation's David Shields, M.D., a gastroenterologist the zoo argues primarily treats humans, but the foundation says has more than 10 years' experience working with gorillas in this field. 

The zoo's request for enforcement anticipates the foundation will file a motion to oppose. Accordingly it includes a proposed order for the judge to sign setting a June 13 transfer date. "Because it takes approximately a week's notice to make final preparations for the transfer," the zoo writes, "[the zoo] could not risk the delay that might be involved with waiting for [The Gorilla Foundation] to move this Court."

What's Going On?

In the court documents and emails, the zoo argues Ndume is fit and ready for travel, for which he has been trained to voluntarily enter his traveling crate. The zoo wants to set a transfer date.

The Gorilla Foundation, however, is concerned about levels of B. coli found in Ndume's stool. The foundation wants to postpone any transfer until Ndume has had three negative stools.

"Ndume is stooling frequently, sometimes forcefully when mixed with gas, and over the last three days has reverted to puddles of loose, cow pie and soft feces," Nunes writes in an email provided to the court by the zoo. "In addition, Ndume left two piles of regurgitated food on the floor after lunch on Tuesday and has started rejecting one of his food items (beans with probiotic). This presents serious risks to him and any people working with him, which can, and should be avoided."

She also cites concerns about the possible use of sedatives during the transfer:

"Additionally, there has been movement to prepare Ndume for sedation. We would like to discontinue this. His crate training, generally, has gone well and sedation should not be needed. The risk factors for sedation of elderly gorillas with heart disease are well documented. Our cardiologist, Dr. Liang, questions Ndume’s cardiac stability and our anesthesiologist, Dr. Mihm, considers Ndume’s anesthetic risks significant so we would like to avoid this route. We do not think this is necessary given his crate training. We hope you agree."

Zoo Director Thane Maynard previously told WVXU the zoo would prefer not to sedate Ndume, though he didn't rule it out. That conversation occurred prior to the recent spate of court filings. The sides say they are currently not permitted to discuss the case with the media.

As for Ndume's B. coli condition, the zoo's Tuesday filing says, "the primate veterinary experts at [the zoo] and the Gorilla Species Survival Plan (veterinarians who work at other zoos and oversee the transfers of hundreds of gorillas in human care) reviewed this finding and are not concerned that the presence of this trace amount of the non-active form of the protozoal organism poses a health risk to Ndume or should prevent his transfer."

In its transfer enforcement order request Thursday, the zoo concludes The Gorilla Foundation's "reasons for refusing the June 13 date are not 'substantially more compelling' than the reasons it gave the Court in the status update. They are the same reasons. There is no basis to further delay Ndume's transfer and there are good reasons to proceed on June 13."

"Substantially more compelling" is the language used by Judge Richard Seeborg in his Wednesday ruling ordering Ndume be transferred to Cincinnati by the end of June.

"While defendants may seek relief from any transfer date to which they do not consent, they are reminded that the question of whether Ndume will be transferred to the Zoo is no longer subject to negotiation, and they are advised any showing of undue risk from the transfer will have to be substantially more compelling than that presented in conjunction with the Case Management Conference Statement," he wrote.

Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Prior to joining Cincinnati Public Radio, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She enjoys snow skiing, soccer and dogs.