published Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

Chattanooga Zoo study calls for improved organization after animal deaths

In this file photo, friends and fans of Chattanooga's late chimpanzee resident, Hank, take their seats before a memorial in his honor at the Chattanooga Zoo on Feb. 5, 2011.
In this file photo, friends and fans of Chattanooga's late chimpanzee resident, Hank, take their seats before a memorial in his honor at the Chattanooga Zoo on Feb. 5, 2011.
Photo by Jake Daniels /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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The study

Organization recommendations

  • • Invest in building and developing the key asset of the zoo - its staff - by adding key positions, clearly defining roles and formalizing policies and procedures.
  • • Add staff in key areas of revenue development and management to better position the organization to move to the next level.
  • • Improve overall business practices to reflect a growing, professional and independent organization.
  • • Provide opportunities for professional growth and development within the organization.
  • • Develop greater external focus for zoo president/CEO.

Source: Schultz & Williams consulting study

A $25,000 private consulting report announced by board members of the Friends of the Chattanooga Zoo on the heels of 10 animal deaths last winter calls for improved organization at the zoo.

"The zoo's organizational structure needs to be strengthened to maximize efficiencies and create clear lines of accountability," consultant David Walsh of Schultz & Williams told a committee of the Chattanooga City Council on Tuesday afternoon.

An onscreen report he showed the council listed five priority areas for the zoo, and the first was "Organization: Invest in building and developing the key asset of the zoo -- its staff -- by adding key positions, clearly defining roles, and formulating zoowide policies and procedures."

Walsh said some of staff changes have begun already, with the addition of a full-time staff veterinarian technician in May to increase vet time with the animals.

While Walsh praised the zoo staff's "passionate leadership" and "committed staff," he also made it clear more is needed.

"But we're also looking at other senior leadership positions that could be added out there to enhance the overall leadership and organizational capacity at the zoo," he said. "What we saw is a lot of dollars and money and resources invested to get the facility looking great. Now what you want to do is make an investment in the organizational side as well."

Darde Long, the zoo's executive director, said the study provides a road map for zoo improvement that now must be applied.

"A strategic plan is good, but like anything else, it's only as good as what you do with it," she said after the council presentation.

Last February, after the January death of Hank the chimpanzee, former zoo workers complained that several animals had died at the zoo during the holidays.

Times Free Press inquiries determined that 10 animals died in a matter of weeks, including two tortoises that froze to death, two marmoset monkeys that went without food and water for two days because of a keeper scheduling problem, two muntjac deer that had been frightened by dogs and two snow leopard cubs found dead after being born outside in freezing weather.

Zoo officials accepted responsibility for the tortoise deaths, and the death of the deer that had a seizure and fell in a pond, dying later of hypothermia.

Zoo officials said the other deer died later of a twisted colon. And they said the monkeys had a viral condition did not die from going without food. They said newborn snow leopards often do not live.

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Allison Kwesell/Chattanooga Times Free Press The late Hank looks through the glass of his chimpanzee habitat at the Chattanooga Zoo.

Hank the chimp died of natural causes, according to a University of Tennessee necropsy.

A special American Association of Zoos inspection and report, faulted the zoo for the tortoise deaths, but found the other deaths "unfortunate and unrelated." Still, the AZA report did make specific recommendations for policy and management changes as a direct result of the leopard, deer and monkey deaths.

Additionally in May, an U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector noted five more violations at the zoo, which has been plagued by bad inspection reports over the past year.

Since late September and May, the Chattanooga Zoo was inspected by USDA four times and garnered 21 violations, including three repeat noncompliant items. Zoos with good inspections normally are checked once a year, but repeat violations automatically trigger a reinspection in 90 days, according to USDA spokesman Dave Sacks.

  • photo
    Gary Chazen, chairman of the board of the Friends of the Zoo, talks to the Chattanooga City Council in this file photo.
    Staff Photo by Tim Barber

In February, after reports of the animal deaths, Friends of the Chattanooga Zoo board Chairman Gary Chazen told the Times Free Press and the City Council that the consultant study would help the board fix problems at the zoo.

"We know there are some issues there [at the zoo], and obviously we're going to try to get to the bottom of it," he said, characterizing the spate of animal deaths as "a perfect storm."

Later that day he assured the council committee that there will be changes.

"Once we have the above facts in hand, we will act responsibly, appropriately and quickly to make changes as necessary," he said.

Chazen could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

The consultants study also recommends improving zoo revenue, reinforcing the zoo board's governing and fiduciary roles, improving the zoo's overall business practices and developing a "greater external focus for [the] zoo president/CEO."

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about Pam Sohn...

Pam Sohn has been reporting or editing Chattanooga news for 25 years. A Walden’s Ridge native, she began her journalism career with a 10-year stint at the Anniston (Ala.) Star. She came to the Chattanooga Times Free Press in 1999 after working at the Chattanooga Times for 14 years. She has been a city editor, Sunday editor, wire editor, projects team leader and assistant lifestyle editor. As a reporter, she also has covered the police, ...

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fairmon said...

There is no justification for tax dollars funding a zoo. Ticket sales and donations from the private sector by those having a high value for the city having a zoo should be sufficient. A lack of adequate supporter funding and ticket revenue would reveal if there should be a local zoo or not. I doubt any business makes a decision to locate or not locate in Chattanooga is based on the city having a zoo. It is easier for special interest to convince the government to confiscate funding from tax payers than to actively solicit funding from the public. The council decision is often based on the size of the voting block and whether funding the special interest will have an adverse voter impact.

August 10, 2011 at 8:25 a.m.
jimmiedee said...

I know for a fact the city and the zoo is withholding facts about hanks death ask them about being shot the bullet was still in him upon his death. The zoos director needs to be replaced nothing will change as long as shes incharge i can promice you that.

August 10, 2011 at 1:44 p.m.
cea said...

The safety of the animals isn't the only thing that needs to be investigated at this zoo. I would not recommend the zoo for any school or family visit. As a parent, it is evident to me that our children are in danger at this facility as well. Recall the events of May 2008.

August 10, 2011 at 9:48 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

I know some people care deeply about animals; but, this is a political witch hunt to make a claim about cost cutting. We gave these people nothing to work with. We provided more attention and funding to public golf that we did for this zoo.

We did not care. We did not pay. We shoved it off on them, and ignored most everything about it.

That zoo could have been of significant import to our local people. Instead, we let it be a pin on a map. We made how much effort to incorporate animal observation at the zoo into our public schools. Every high school has a Biology class. How much of that involved the zoo?

Let me guess. None. No real academic work for secondary school students at the zoo. Is that about right?

Now, we will be flooded by these ignorant, self-serving, self-appointed people in City and County who will whip up anybody around here who is too ignorant and unimaginative to realize just what this zoo could be for our students. They'll hoop and holler and accuse until they claim all but the Devil is jailed unjustly there. Anything to shut down a department and funnel the money into their political PAC.

I guarantee you, one way to cover up the fictions created by the fake definition of liability in the city budget is to shut down a department. Just as with the Housing Crisis Bubble, financiers can only lie for so long about the fictional value of an account. When it's time for cash money to be drawn out of it, people will realize what's not there and react. So also it will be with Mayor Littlefield's budget. $10 Million dollars of fake definitions about liability built in. There will huge consequences for his financial failures.

Meanwhile, zoos have overhead because animals eat and require medical care. The facilities themselves require constant upkeep. Zoos are almost never financially profitable.

Unlike golf.

Also, to be of value, thinking people have to frequently use the zoo. It's in the observation of animals that the zoo provides its service to the community. Guess what. With these anti-intellectual Republicans in office, there won't be any observation of the exotic or commonplace. They will shut down the zoo for one reason: money.

They need to chop a massive hole in the budget to make up for the money they have already mis-spent on their back door deals.

Like the other problems which have come up with City employees and payments this year, the leadership could have chosen to back their people and improve.

Not a peep of support on this. Not a hint or whiff of suggestion that maybe we can do better. Instead, silent abandonment. Meanwhile, just exposing a government employee to public scrutiny of any kind will allow resentment to well up, whether it is accurate or not. No help. No improvement. Just public opinion erosion.

Then will come the proposed cuts.

August 10, 2011 at 11:04 p.m.
328Kwebsite said...

If any --any-- of our elected, or even the self-appointed, local officials had any --any-- loyalty to their people or their constituents they would never leave a government employee to the wolves of poor public opinion. Never.

You stand beside them when you are at the podium. You call a press conference and you tell the world you support our people. The yelling occurs in private. We see none of that here.

Instead, government employees under scrutiny get abandoned by local leadership.

It's not necessary. It doesn't fix anything. It's not right or fair.

Notice also that there will be zero actual effort on fixing any problems here. The entire time, the Mayor's administration wanted nothing to do with the zoo. It was well within the scope of his responsibility. An official doesn't get to pick what they're in charge of, often. In this case, the Mayor just contributed to the neglect by not caring and separating the zoo from normal governmental processes. Now that they are in trouble, he will continue his policy of failing to support the entire endeavor.

That ignoring includes not taking care of City employees at the zoo.

Mayor Littlefield will ignore the trouble these people are in because it's easy and profitable for him to do so.

It's what our local Republicans do every time they want to target a department for taking some money. It's either smokescreen or shakedown. They've been floundering on the zoo. Like the arts or the BS they pulled on the police parking lot, it could have been a smokescreen; but, the low profitability of this department makes it ripe for shakedown.

If it's completely shut down, the whole budget goes to duct-tape a hole in the money created by Mayor Littlefield's end of the Metro Payoff Club scheme.

The result of this will be the disloyal quiet abandonment of Darde Long by her Mayor. Then, probably from some toadie, will come the budget axe.

I dare any elected official in this area to publicly support any of these City employees. I know they won't do it because the Republicans will coordinate their vulture-like efforts to leave a long time public servant to be shut out rather than be counted as who she is: one of their people they need to take care of.

Instead, they will take care of their bank accounts by abandoning Darde Long.

August 10, 2011 at 11:09 p.m.
fairmon said...

A cost benefit analysis will reveal the zoo isn't a good investment with a negative ROI. Put it on the next ballot and see how many people want any of their tax dollar going toward zoo funding. I would predict a result of 80% NO, 10% YES with 10% not voting. There is no involvement with the schools that are under funded and struggling within a dysfunctional system and process. Gawking at caged wild animals may not be as important as other academic needs. Those viewing a zoo as a valuable community resource and those using it should fund it.

August 10, 2011 at 11:36 p.m.

why dont you all find out how they run there so called rehab program and why they cant keep anyone who cares about animals working many animals suffer in that room unless chris downey is working it then they die ask there current rehab person oh you cant he dosent work there anymore he left dew to the animals not being cared for when he was off.then you dardi careing more for her tv time and taking care of a few employees on zoo money taking theme to lunch for two hours why there on the clock she dosent run the zoo she lets her so called vet tech that dosent no anything try to run it and her husband runs his crew what a joke he never comes out of his office and they never talk about his addiction he had that was kept quite theres more going on there than everyone knows. there banana ball most of the crew was drinking there shuttle driver was drunk while taking people to there vehicle is that a smart thing nothing was ever done about it.

October 14, 2011 at 7:50 a.m.
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