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More Deaths At Animal Kingdom

Twenty-nine animals died at or en route to Disney's new Animal Kingdom, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report obtained by The Associated Press. Disney had acknowledged 12 deaths.

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Animal deaths at the $800-million theme park aren't always worth announcing to the public, Disney spokeswoman Diane Ledder said Wednesday. She said the company only made the significant deaths public.

"We don't make a practice of informing the media every time an animal dies at our facilities or, by the same token, when one is born," Ledder said. "It's not practical. Animals are born, and they die. It's a fact of life, and the numbers change."

Disney had announced the deaths of four cheetah cubs, two rhinos, two hippos, and four other animals.

The USDA report said officials found no wrongdoing by Disney in a three-week investigation before the park opened April 22. It praised Animal Kingdom's staff for being "highly professional, caring, motivated, and enthusiastic."

The report said several types of antelope and gazelles, a litter of five chinchilla rabbits, and a Guinea hog also perished. The causes ranged from maternal neglect to fights between animals trying to establish territory or dominance.

It said two otters died when they ate seeds from a loquat tree. Disney said the seeds were toxic but that handlers thought the otters wouldn't eat them. The report said the deaths of the otters may have been due to "professional error" but didn't violate the Animal Welfare Act.

The report, written by veterinary medical officer Robert Brandes, also explained how a Mhorr's gazelle died when it was kicked by a kudu, a type of antelope. Disney was not at fault.

"These animals were always afforded more than the minimum space required ... and had sufficient space to move away," said Brandes, one of two USDA investigators to visit the park April 13-17. "Some interaction and/or aggression is normal behavior in animals as they determine dominance within a herd or between herds."

The report said there is still no explanation for the deaths, from kidney failure, of the cheetahs last December. Ethylene, an ingredient used in antifreeze and solvents, was found in their systems.

An empty gasoline can was found in the cheetah compound, but was ruled out as a source of the poisoning. A 24-hour guard has since been placed at the entrance to the cheetah compound.

"The source of the toxicity still remains a mystery," the report said. "Deliberate poisoning cannot be totally ruled out."

Written by Mike Schneider

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