FARMINGTON — An animal rights group said Thursday it plans to stage a protest at Lagoon amusement park Sunday in response to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report about an elk death at the park’s zoo earlier this year.
Protesters from the Utah Animal Rights Coalition plan to protest during the morning and then walk to the site of the elk death and lay flowers in memoriam of the elk killed, according to Amy Meyer, director of the coalition.
“Lagoon has a long history of providing inadequate enclosures for their captive wild animals,” Meyer said in a statement. “It’s past time for Lagoon to stick to what they know best — rides — and allow UARC to help them relocate their wild animals to accredited sanctuaries that have already offered to provide the safety and quality of life these animals deserve.”
The planned protest comes five months after a new bull elk was attacked by a bison cow on Feb. 22, causing injuries significant enough that a veterinarian had to euthanize the elk, according to a report filed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The department conducted an inspection of the park’s zoo on March 27 and the elk’s death resulted in a "critical" violation.
The report stated a new yearling bull elk was introduced to the area and released into the elk trail enclosure. The elk then crawled through a 2-foot gap beneath the enclosure fence and entered an adjacent bison pen. A bison cow then charged at the elk and injured it, resulting in a veterinarian euthanizing the elk.
Lagoon spokesman Adam Leishman said the park had no incidents between the two species prior to the attack in February and the park made the recommended changes to the animal pens and closed the gap between the two enclosures with large boulders.
"We consider it a freak occurrence," Leishman said. "We've always had that thoroughfare between the two enclosures between those specific animals and they asked us to secure them and separate them. We immediately did that."
The elk death wasn’t the first time the amusement park received criticism for the animals kept on its property. In 2002, an elk died after it was gored by an older elk in the park, according to the Daily Herald. That led to outcry from the Utah Animal Rights Coalition.
In 2012, a group protested Lagoon’s zoo conditions, claiming that the park failed to meet minimum federal standards in its care of animals in its Wild Kingdom ride, according to the Associated Press.
A zookeeper had her leg gored by a wildebeest in 2013, prompting a U.S. Department of Agriculture investigation at that time.
Two animal rights activists were charged in 2015 after prosecutors said they protested animal conditions at the zoo without a permit. Those charges were later dropped, according to the Associated Press.
Two Utah teens also started a petition in 2016 to relocate animals located on the Wild Kingdom ride.
Leishman said the protesters are no stranger to park staff, though he said the park has remained on good accord with the Department of Agriculture.
"Everyone is certainly entitled to their own opinions about things," he said. "We feel like we have an excellent record with the USDA. The animals have received excellent care. Many of the animals here come from pretty deplorable situations and they are rescue animals, essentially."