ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Walt Disney World Co. agreed Friday to plead guilty to violating a federal bird protection law and pay $10,000 in fines for killing birdsconsidered a nuisance at its theme park, wildlife officials said.
Disney also agreed to donate $75,000 to the state for an education program on wildlife protection and $10,000 to a nearby wildlife center for the preservation of birds.
'It's what we call a 'deferred prosecution agreement' -- or, for want of a better word, probation,' said Jim Knight, an attorney for the state Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.
In the agreement with the state, Disney and employees admitted no wrongdoing.
'Obviously, no one can know absolutely what actions were taken or the intent of the individuals in attempting to cope with the situation created by the invasion of the vultures,' said Charles Ridgeway, a Disney spokesman.
Ridgeway conceded that 15 or 16 birds died, but he insisted it was because they were confined and became overheated. Evidence, however, indicated some birds were beaten to death.
'First of all, we have taken very positive measures to make sure these things don't happen. We have made a considerable contribution of money to conservation practices. There's no certainty that they could prove all those things,' he said.
The agreement stipulates that any violation of laws governing treatment of wildlife at the Walt Disney World resort within 12 months would nullify the agreement and would lead to immediate resumption of prosecution on the original charges.
Disney and five of its employees were charged by the state with 13 misdemeanors, including beating birds to death, in their efforts last year to rid the 11-acre Discovery Island zoological park at Disney World of nuisance birds, most of them vultures.
Disney and the employees faced a maximum six months in jail and a $500 fine on each of the state charges.
The company also faced three federal charges of violating U.S. migratory bird protection laws for the way it handled egrets, vultures and ibises that were considered a nuisance at the park. Each count is punishable by up to six months in jail and a $10,000 fine.
Disney agreed Friday to plead guilty to one of those federal counts, Knight said.
Disney officials said they have called in government and private wildlife experts to determine how to cope with the large flocks of vultures that congregate at the Discovery Island site.
The company has also established an advisory committee to oversee the operation of the island and has begun a search for a new curator.
Disney officials have reassigned all the accused personnel to other jobs, including island curator Charlie Cook.