David Ebert • Co-Founder
January 26, 2018
By Email and Overnight Mail
Dr. Robert Gibbens (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Director, Animal Welfare Operations
United States Department of Agriculture
2150 Centre Avenue
Building B, M.S. 3W11
Fort Collins, Colorado 80526
Re: Animal Welfare Act License for Hugo T. Liebel
Licensed exhibitor # 58-C-0288
Dear Dr. Gibbens:
The Animal Defense Partnership (“ADP”) is a 501(c)(3) not-for profit corporation that provides pro bono legal services to non-profits involved in animal rights, welfare and protection. Details about who we are and what we do can be found at www.animaldefensepartnership.org.
ADP urges the United States Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (“APHIS”) to decline to renew Hugo T. Liebel’s exhibitor license (No. 58-C-0288). As APHIS is aware, Mr. Libel has been the subject of approximately 200 USDA citations over more than two decades for violating the AWA. These violations have included Mr. Liebel failing and refusing to provide adequate and timely food; failing and refusing to provide adequate space; failing and refusing to provide proper veterinary care; failing and refusing to provide adequate supervision; failing and refusing to provide adequate barriers; failing and refusing to keep required records; failing and refusing to provide adequate and safe transport; and failing and refusing to provide clean facilities. It is manifest that Mr. Liebel has no regard for the animals in his custody, APHIS or the AWA.
Mr. Liebel’s Self-Reporting Must Be Disregarded
The stated purpose of the AWA includes ensuring that animals intended for use for exhibition or as pets are provided humane care, treatment and transportation in commerce. (AWA §2131, Congressional Statement of Policy.) And APHIS’s mission, of course, includes administering the AWA.
On June 16, 2017, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (“FWC”) denied Mr. Liebel’s Class I license application renewal for Nosey’s home facility in Florida, citing Mr. Liebel’s misconduct in submitting materially false information on his application and withholding itinerary information from the FWC. This calls into questions the veracity of all of Mr. Liebel’s reporting and statements to governmental agencies, including the USDA and APHIS.
Because Mr. Liebel is applying for a renewal license, his history of prior false statements is of particular importance. Under § 2.2 (b) of the Animal Welfare Regulations “APHIS will renew a license after the applicant certifies by signing the application form that, to the best of the applicant’s knowledge and belief, he or she is in compliance with the regulations and standards and agrees to continue to comply with the Animal Welfare Regulations, USDA § 2.2 46 PART 2 Subpart A regulations and standards.” Based on his demonstrated propensity to make material false representations to regulatory agencies regarding his own practices, and (as discussed below) the recent judicial determination establishing beyond dispute that Mr. Liebel has never had any interest in complying with PHIS or the AWA, Mr. Liebel’s self-reporting must be disregarded.
Mr. Liebel Hs Been Judicially Determined to Be Unfit
to Maintain Custody of Nosey or Any Other Animal
Quite recently, Mr. Liebel was found by Hon. Angela Terry, an Alabama Lawrence District Court judge, unfit to maintain custody of Nosey. This extraordinary decision—supported by Mr. Liebel’s extraordinary misconduct—was rendered after an evidentiary hearing in which Judge Terry heard and admitted at trial overwhelming evidence of Liebel’s cruelty, abuse and neglect in handling, transporting, housing, feeding and caring for Nosey.
Immediately after the hearing, Mr. Liebel was arrested and charged criminally under Alabama Code § 13A-11-14, which provides that “a person commits the crime of cruelty to animals, if he intentionally or recklessly subjects any animal to cruel mistreatment; or subjects any animal in his custody to cruel neglect; or kills or injures without good cause.” The matter is scheduled for an arraignment hearing on February 8, 2018.
We urge the USDA to review Judge Terry’s decision (a copy is attached as Exhibit A), which recites in detail the history of Mr. Liebel’s misconduct, the overwhelming evidence adduced at the hearing and the Court’s findings. We have also attached copies of the exhibits admitted into evidence at the hearing.
APHIS’s Determination Regarding Mr. Liebel
And Nosey Will Have Broad Policy Implications
It is hard to imagine a more compelling pattern of abuse and misconduct directed to an animal, the consequences of which are magnified here given the well-established highly-developed social and emotional needs of elephants. It is a travesty that Liebel was permitted to engage in this conduct for so much of Nosey’s life. For any regulatory body to find him fit to have custody over Nosey or any other animals—particularly based on Mr. Liebel’s self-reporting—would be an egregious failure.
Nosey’s plight is being closely followed by news outlets, animal advocates and, presumably, other deserving and undeserving animal owners, both licensed and unlicensed. If Mr. Liebel’s license were to be renewed, it would be tantamount to granting a license to all unfit animal owners to ignore APHIS and the AWA and neglect, abuse and mistreat the animals in their care with impunity.
Very truly yours,
THE ANIMAL DEFENSE PARTNERSHIP, INC.