ALDF Petitions Department of Transportation to Require Airlines to Report on Deaths of Animals Shipped as “Cargo”

Posted on April 12, 2012

For immediate release

Lisa Franzetta, Animal Legal Defense Fund
Megan Backus, Animal Legal Defense Fund

MacaquesCotati, Calif. – On the heels of the trial of Robert Conyers, who was acquitted in Los Angeles last week of 10 counts of animal cruelty related to the failed transportation of 25 monkeys from Miami to Bangkok, the national non-profit Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) has sent a letter to the Department of Transportation urging them to oblige air carriers to report on the deaths of any animals in transit. Currently, the Department of Transportation only requires airlines to report the deaths or disappearances of animals considered “pets”–meaning that there has been no accurate reporting on in-flight harm to animals transported as cargo, like the 15 monkeys who died after being shipped by Conyers.

The current reporting requirement was created by Congress with the intention of gathering data on the safety of transporting animals as cargo–a risky, controversial practice which many air carriers today refuse to do. That data was intended to be used to inform the public of the safety of the practice and to determine whether further legislative action would be required. However, the regulation as it is currently written covers only “[p]et[s] in a family household in the United States,” which make up only part of the total number of animals transported by air carriers. Other animals shipped in cargo are unaccounted for, as far as the current law is being interpreted.

“Whether an animal is shipped as a pet or as an item of commerce has no bearing whatsoever on that animal’s ability to suffer,” says ALDF’s executive director Stephen Wells. “Travelers and animal lovers have a right to know exactly how risky it is for animals to be shipped as cargo on commercial airlines.”

A copy of ALDF’s letter to the Department of Transportation follows.

April 12, 2012

The Honorable Ray LaHood
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20590

The Honorable Michael P. Huerta
Acting Administrator
Federal Aviation Administration
800 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20591

The Honorable Tom Vilsack
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250

Dear Mr. LaHood, Mr. Huerta, and Mr. Vilsack:

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is deeply concerned about the recent case of Robert Conyers, a Miami-based animal importer, who was acquitted in Los Angeles last week of 10 counts of animal cruelty related to the failed transportation of 25 monkeys from Miami to Bangkok. Due to complications including bad weather, paperwork issues, and poor communication, the monkeys were shipped from Miami to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to China, and then from China back to Los Angeles before finally being released from their containers. By the end of the four-day ordeal, 14 of the monkeys were dead from starvation, dehydration, of hypothermia. One more had to be euthanized, and those who survived needed significant veterinary care.  

This debacle underscores the perils that millions of animals traveling through American airspace face when they are loaded onto planes each year. Pursuant to 49 U.S.C. § 41721, the Federal Aviation Administration must collect data on the number of animals killed, injured, and lost during air transport in the United States. As written, however, FAA administrative regulations only require airlines to report casualties among “pets” in the course of air travel. This narrow interpretation does not require airlines to report deaths, injuries, or losses of non-pet animals, including Conyers’ monkeys.  Household pets make up only a portion of the animals regularly transported on airlines, meaning that only a portion of the animals harmed during air travel are reported each year. Under the current regulatory scheme, the total number of animals killed, injured, and lost by airlines remains a mystery.

In August of 2010, the Animal Legal Defense Fund submitted a petition to the FAA and the Department of Transportation to promulgate new rules requiring airlines to report deaths, injuries, and losses of all animals, whether or not the animals are pets. We request that the DOT promptly open a comment period on ALDF’s 2010 petition and move forward with implementing this critical change. This change would provide lawmakers and the general public with a complete picture of the dangers of transporting animals by airplane, allowing them to make educated choices about this practice in the future.

Even if Conyers had accurate information about the hazards of air travel for animals, it is unclear whether he would have made different decisions about the handling of his monkeys. What is clear is that the American public has the right to know about tragic incidents like this before handing their own animals over to airlines. The current regulatory scheme allows other cases like Conyers’ to slip quietly by the public’s notice, giving a false sense of security when transporting animals by plane. Though nothing we do now can save Conyers’ monkeys from the terrible ends they suffered, requiring that all animal casualties be reported to the FAA can save other animals from similar fates in the future. 

By educating the public about the risks of animal air travel, and by holding airlines and individuals accountable for the decisions they make when shipping animals, we can spare innocent animals from the cold, lonely deaths that too often await them in airplane cargo holds. Please consider ALDF’s petition with the best interests of animals in mind and clarify for us the DOT’s planned course of action to prevent tragedies like the Conyers case in the future.


John Melia, Esq.
Litigation Fellow
Animal Legal Defense Fund


Joseph Lieberman
706 Senate Hart Office Building
Washington, DC 20510

Robert Menendez
528 Senate Hart Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Richard Durbin
711 Senate Hart Office Building
    Washington, DC 20510

2 thoughts on “ALDF Petitions Department of Transportation to Require Airlines to Report on Deaths of Animals Shipped as “Cargo”

  1. Robert Conyers says:

    I agree airlines should have to have better reporting scheme for animals that die in transit. Misstating the facts will not help your cause but will obfuscate the issue. I am not – and never have been- an “Animal Importer”. They were never my animals and I could never make final decisions on the course of their journey or the means of transportation. Continued false accusations and ignoring the actual facts of the case – will always result in the transportation industry, logistics specialists and government agencies ignoring or declining your petitions for change.

  2. Amelia O. says:

    I’m sorry Mr. Conyers but if you had anything, anything at all to do with the shipping of those monkeys, you are very much responsible for their deaths. Too bad they didn’t think so at your trial.

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