updated 8/22/2007 12:47:23 PM ET 2007-08-22T16:47:23

The Saint Louis Zoo has agreed to pay a $7,500 fine to the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the deaths of two polar bears.

The USDA said in documents filed earlier this month that the zoo's violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act resulted in the deaths of Penny, a 20-year-old female polar bear, and Churchill, an 17-year-old male, in May and June of 2005. Churchill had trash bags and rags in his digestive tract, and Penny died with two dead fetuses in her uterus.

The USDA licenses zoos, aquariums and other animal attractions.

The zoo said it "fundamentally disagrees" with two of the USDA's claims but agreed to the deal to avoid costly litigation.

"With or without allegations, (animal care) is the core of the zoo. If we don't take care of animals, we don't take care of the core of the zoo," said Dr. Eric Miller, the zoo's senior vice president.

Churchill's death prompted People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to seek the USDA investigation.

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