Mel Richardson, DVM, 63, died on January 2, 2014, “just a few weeks before his 64th birthday,” wrote Animal Defenders International president Jan Creamer. “He had been suffering from poor health and heart problems for the past year and was forced to drop out of the Lion Ark U.S. premiere at the Mill Valley Film Festival in October 2013. However, he was able to join us the following month at the Sun & Sand Film & Music Festival in Mississippi where Lion Ark won Best Documentary,” Creamer said. Lion Ark recounts how ADI on February 16, 2011 flew 24 former Bolivian circus lions to the Rocky Mountain Wildlife Conservation Center in Keenesburg, Colorado. Richardson was the project veterinarian.
“As keeper and eventually as veterinarian now for the last 28 years, I have known and worked with more than 84 elephants in captivity,” Richardson told Indian journalist Shubhobroto Ghosh 2009. “I met my first elephant in 1969 at the Atlanta Zoo. I was a 19-year-old zoo keeper and she was 47-year-old Asian elephant named Alice. She arrived at the zoo in 1940.” Richardson was later a keeper at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, before beginning his veterinary career at the Glenwood Animal Hospital in Tyler, Texas––one of the oldest continuously operating veterinary practices in the U.S.
“In 1982-84 I worked for an animal dealer in Texas who imported more than forty baby African elephants [who were] orphaned by culling in Zimbabwe,” Richardson recalled to Ghosh.
Starting his own practice in Paradise, California, Richardson in 2005 became a consultant to In Defense of Animals’ campaign to close zoo elephant exhibits.
In October 2006, while Friends of Animals was in the process of annexing the Primarily Primates sanctuary in San Antonio, Texas, a PETA lawsuit put Primarily Primates into six and a half months of temporary receivership. Richardson, as a PETA consultant, served for four months as the Primarily Primates veterinarian. Friends of Animals won custody of Primarily Primates and completed the annexation in May 2007.
In November 2007 Richardson helped the Performing Animal Welfare Society to relocate an elephant from the Alaska Zoo to the PAWS Ark 2000 sanctuary in Calaveras, California. In 2009 Richardson provided testimony in support of a thus far unsuccessful ZooCheck Canada campaign to persuade the Edmonton Zoo to send their lone elephant to either Ark 2000 or the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.
In the winter of 2009-2010 Richardson advised the government of KwaZulu-Natal province in South Africa in drafting regulations for keeping captive wildlife.
On behalf of the Canadian Horse Defense Coalition, Richardson in April 2010 reviewed 20 hours of undercover video of horse slaughter Viande Richelieu in Quebec and Bouvry Exports in Alberta, producing testimony that “both facilities fail to meet humane slaughter standards.”
Later in 2010 Richardson provided expert testimony in support of an unsuccessful lawsuit brought by the Animal Legal Defense Fund against the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle.