LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Zoo euthanized its entire herd of threatened Nubian ibex goats because they were identified as the source of an infectious and incurable strain of herpes, the facility said Thursday.
The zoo made the "difficult yet responsible decision" to euthanize the seven Middle Eastern mountain goats last month because of malignant catarrhal fever, commonly called MCF, according to a statement released by the zoo.
"The Nubian ibex could not be sent to any other facility housing hoofed animals, as those animals could contract the disease and die," the statement said. "It would have been irresponsible of the zoo to send the Nubian ibex to another facility knowing they could cause harm to additional animals."
The zoo discovered the highly contagious virus in the goats after six African antelope at the zoo became ill and died in October. The virus is contagious among hoofed animals but can't be passed to humans.
The zoo said the disease is no longer on its grounds and that all the other animals are safe.
MCF is more commonly found in underdeveloped nations and is rarely seen in the U.S., said Jennifer Langan, a clinical professor of zoological medicine at the University of Illinois and a senior staff veteran at the Brookfield Zoo outside Chicago.
When it does strike zoos or farms, euthanizing host animals is really the only option, she said.
"It's highly contagious," she said. "In order to prevent additional animals from being harmed you can't move that infected herd anyplace because you put other animals at risk."
She likened the decision to euthanize a herd to pet owners who must put down their dog or cat for quality-of-life reasons.
"Those are always incredibly difficult decisions, made with forethought and empathy," Langan said. "None of these decisions are ever made lightly and I'm sure it was incredibly difficult for staff at the zoo."
Prashant Khetan, CEO of animal-rights group Born Free USA, said the euthanization of the herd just shows that they shouldn't have been kept in a zoo in the first place.
"This is tragic," Khetan said. "This should draw attention to the plight of animals in these situations. They belong in natural habitat."
Poaching and habitat loss have whittled the Nubian ibex population down to several thousand in the wild, and the species is considered threatened.