Dallas Zookeeper Faces Animal Mistreatment Accusations

By Ken Kalthoff and Shane Allen
|  Wednesday, Feb 16, 2011  |  Updated 12:36 PM CDT
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The former owner of a couple of <a title=Dallas Zoo elephants is facing possible fines in a federal hearing after accusations he mishandled the animals in the past." />

Ken Kalthoff, NBCDFW.com

The former owner of a couple of Dallas Zoo elephants is facing possible fines in a federal hearing after accusations he mishandled the animals in the past.

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A Dallas zookeeper faces fines and other sanctions over accusations that he mistreated animals in his care before joining the zoo.

Doug Terranova trains and handles animals for circuses and television shows.

Complaints against him will be heard at a U.S. Department of Agriculture hearing in Washington, D.C., on Thursday. The USDA could impose fines or other restrictions on Terranova's license to exhibit animals outside a zoo in the future.

Kamba, an elephant Terranova owned, was hit by a sport utility vehicle in Oklahoma after escaping from a traveling circus in November 2009.

Terranova said he regrets what happened to Kamba but denies mistreating animals.

"I'm saying that yes, I do things correctly, and I welcome the chance to prove that," he said.

Other complaints against Terranova date back to 2005. Some originate from inspections at his Kaufman County farm.

Terranova said he has 40 years of experience with animals including elephants, large cats, camels and primates.

"I have worked with animals since I was 11 years old, volunteering in the zoo," he said.

Kamba was taken to the Dallas Zoo as part of her rehabilitation soon after her Oklahoma accident.

The zoo then purchased Kamba and her companion, Congo, in March 2010 to permanently join the Giants of the Savanna exhibit, which includes six acres of space for elephants.

Zoo Executive Director Gregg Hudson said Terranova was hired as a keeper to help the elephants adapt to their new environment.

"The proof is how these animals have adjusted," he said. "They&'ve been here over a year. They're flourishing. They're doing great."

Terranova said a license is not required to work at the zoo, but Hudson said Terranova's status as a zoo employee could depend on the government's actions.

In the meantime, the two elephants now belong to the zoo and are receiving excellent care, Hudson said.

"What we have here is a very structured environment, and a zero tolerance for anything that is detrimental to the animals, so if anything were to happen here, it would not be tolerated," he said.

Animal rights group In Defense of Animals has filed a complaint against Terranova in the USDA case.

Katherine Doyle, elephant campaign director, said the IDA believes elephants do not belong in circuses or zoos.

But the IDA has recognized the Dallas Zoo and for the expanded elephant exhibit that now includes Kamba and Congo.

"The Dallas Zoo is a great step above their lives before," Doyle said.

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