The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has denied an extension sought by animal rights groups trying to delay the import of six elephants.

The groups, which include People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, asked the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to extend the public comment period on the Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium’s application to bring the elephants to Omaha. The application is the last barrier before Omaha and partner zoos in Dallas and Wichita can import a total of 18 elephants, six for each zoo, from Swaziland in southern Africa.

The public comment period allows people to provide feedback on the government’s 18-page environmental assessment, which considers the merits of the import. The deadline for submitting comments was Monday night.

The animal rights groups sought a 60-day extension of the public comment period so they could have more time to do research. Though their request for an extension was denied, it doesn’t mark defeat for the group’s efforts. Now that the window has closed, officials from the wildlife service will consider the thousands of submitted comments.

The request also asked for access to the complete 1,000-plus page application filed by the zoos, which the groups were granted, said Carney Anne Nasser, a lawyer with the Animal Legal Defense Fund. The formal request was undersigned by representatives of the Performing Animal Welfare Society, the PETA Foundation, In Defense of Animals and Born Free USA.

Laury Parramore, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said it’s not uncommon for the government to receive requests for an extension.

“We believe the 30-day comment period provides sufficient time for comments to be submitted,” she wrote in an email.

Part of the reason the request was denied, she said, was the status of the elephants. Big Game Parks Trust, who owns the elephants, plans to kill them if they are not moved to the zoos.

The wildlife service issued a similar permit to the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa, Florida, for 11 elephants from Swaziland in 2003 under similar circumstances. If the permit is approved, elephants could arrive in Omaha as early as next month.

Contact the writer: 402-444-1734, chris.peters@owh.comtwitter.com/_ChrisPeters

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