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An independent panel has cleared the Buffalo Zoo of an allegation that it engaged in the unethical trading of exotic animals.

An examination of records listing the disposition of all animals that left the zoo between 1992 and 1998, and interviews with zoo personnel regarding animal transactions, turned up "no indication of unethical activity," said Eugene Dimet, chairman of the zoo board's Animal Operations and Horticultural Committee.

"We're pleased that any doubts about the zoo's animal practices can be put to rest," said Zoo Chairman Donna M. Gioia.

The board requested the outside investigation in April after a San Jose Mercury News report about the role of American zoos in the exotic-animal trade described the Buffalo zoo as being among institutions "that sent the largest numbers of animals to dealers" from mid-1992 to 1998.

The story implied those transactions were sometimes shady and the creatures faced an uncertain fate. But it offered no supporting evidence.

Responding to the Mercury News report, Zoo President Thomas E. Garlock said about 100 creatures a year are shipped to new destinations, mostly through dealers, but each transaction is tracked to make sure the animals don't fall into unscrupulous hands.

Garlock said the zoo has never supplied animals to dealers for resale to fenced hunting ranches, unaccredited roadside zoos and game farms, celebrity collectors or other players in the exotic-animal trade.

The independent report backing Garlock's defense of the zoo was delivered to Dimet by two panel members, Dr. Joseph Bruzgul and Charles Ambrus. Bruzgul was appointed by the Western New York Veterinary Medicine Association and Ambrus by County Executive Dennis T. Gorski.

Other members of the group were Barbara Carr, appointed by the Erie County SPCA, and city Parks Commissioner Daniel T. Durawa, named by Mayor Anthony M. Masiello.

Commenting on the findings, General Curator Gerald D. Aquilina said the zoo follows strict guidelines regarding animal transactions placed on member institutions by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.

The zoo "deals only with institutions and individuals who abide by these strict standards," Aquilina said. Under its standard animal-transaction contract, the zoo "will take back any animal which cannot be kept at AZA standards," and on learning an animal had been subjected to inhumane treatment would "take aggressive action to retrieve that animal."

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