Safeguarding the Future of Animal Loan Agreements – Litigation, Mediation and Arbitration



United States: Protecting the future of animal loan agreements

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Gorilla Ndume returns home to Cincinnati

In 1991, the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden (Zoo) loaned Nduma, a western lowland gorilla, to the Woodside, California Gorilla Foundation. For the next 26 years, he was the companion of Koko, a gorilla known for his use of sign language. After Koko’s death, the loan agreement required Ndume to be transferred to an appropriate zoo to live with other gorillas. When Coco passed away in June 2018, Ndume was left without a companion. Since gorillas are intelligent and highly social animals, they should not be isolated from other gorillas. Under the loan agreement, it was decided that Ndume would return to the zoo.


The Gorilla Foundation refused to continue the transmission, arguing that Ndume was too old to be sent and would likely die if returned to Cincinnati. The zoo decided to go to federal court to get Ndume back so he could be with the other gorillas at the zoo. Animal loan agreements are critical to protecting endangered animal species. The Association of Zoos, Aquariums and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals strongly supported the zoo’s position.

Taft in action

The zoo filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California in October 2018, attempted mediation in the first week of January, and won a summary judgment in February 2019 – exactly 100 days from the date the complaint was filed to the sentencing. In preparation for mediation and summary litigation, Taft coordinated obtaining the views of several globally recognized primate experts on a tight schedule. After negotiating a handover agreement and a ruling that was enforced by two additional court orders received by Taft, Ndoume returned to the zoo in June 2019 without incident.

Results and impact

The zoo was praised by its peers for how the lawsuit was handled. Dan Ash, president of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said: “When Nduma needed a lawyer, they stood up, spoke out and acted with courage.”

Ensuring proper implementation of animal loan agreements is of paramount importance to all endangered species under human care. If the terms of this loan agreement were not confirmed, the ability of zoos and other institutions to care for and protect gorillas and other endangered species could be impaired. This lawsuit was notable for both its subject matter – the 350-pound gorilla – and the speed with which Taft’s team scored a complete victory for the zoo.

According to the zoo, Ndume is now content and adapts well to his surroundings.

The content of this article is intended to provide general guidance on the subject. You should seek professional advice regarding your specific circumstances.

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