published Wednesday, February 9th, 2011

Consultant hired to provide Chattanooga Zoo study

  • 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

The Friends of the Zoo's board, which took over the operation of the Chattanooga Zoo in September, has contracted a $25,000 consultant study to examine everything from the zoo's management team to its policies.

"Everything is on the table," said board Chairman Gary Chazen, who, with two other board members, addressed the Chattanooga City Council's Legal and Legislative Committee on Tuesday afternoon.

In a separate meeting Tuesday, the group also talked with editors and reporters at the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

"We know there are some issues there [at the zoo], and obviously we're going to try to get to the bottom of it," Chazen told the Times Free Press.

The consultants began work last month and another meeting between the zoo board and the consultants is planned in the next few weeks. The board hopes to have the final report in March or April, members said.

Chazen and board members Mickey Myers and Robin Derryberry said the zoo has asked the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the consulting firm of Schultz & Williams to help.

The board also is awaiting necropsies for the seven animals that died in a month's time over the holidays, said Myers, who also is a veterinarian.

"You have members of the board who take it very personally that there are management pieces that aren't right down there," Myers said. "That's why everything's on the table here — from pay scales to job descriptions to see if we need to terminate some people."

Friends of the Zoo was formed in 1985, amid a push to close or improve the then-deteriorating Warner Park petting zoo. In September, on the heels of a very critical city internal audit of the zoo, the City Council approved a contract with the Friends of the Zoo to take over its operation.

Zoo Director Darde Long attended the council meeting, but she did not address council members.

Noting that the Friends board has "only been in charge for a short period of time," Myers said the board is still trying to get its arms around the loss of some "key personnel" who moved to other city jobs to keep their pension and benefits, which he said Friends can't match.

"This board was not responsible for anything until a few months ago," he said. "We took it over in the midst of this horrible audit."

In the council committee meeting, Chazen and Myers took questions.

Deborah Scott, councilwoman for District 1, wanted an explanation for why zoo officials didn't know the snow leopard they'd been trying to breed was pregnant. She gave birth to three cubs, two of which died while she was locked outside her shelter in inclement weather.

"It's hard for me to understand why, only the day before a birth, would a person just be[come] aware that the animal is pregnant -- and to the point of delivery," she told Chazen, Myers, Derryberry and board member Pete Serodino.

Myers said zoo officials didn't do an ultrasound exam on the snow leopard because of advice from the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine.

He said experts there told zoo officials that anesthetizing the leopard to conduct the test could be too risky. Also, Myers said, scientific literature shows snow leopards normally don't breed at times that prompt births in December, January and February.

"So most everybody involved told us there's no way she can be pregnant," he said.

Chazen characterized the spate of animal deaths as "a perfect storm."

But 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. "Look, we love our animals there, and they are our priority."

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...

NO TAX OR OTHER GOVERNMENT MONEY PLEASE! Why is city government involved? Why are they allocating city government revenue and time to anything other than regulations to assure good care and to enforce those regulations. No city government funds should be used as subsidies, grants or other financial assistance to a zoo which is not an essential service. Regulating and enforcement is beyond what a majority would be likely to support.

Friends of the zoo should be able to solicit adequate private funds and donations from like minded people that think incarceration of animals for their viewing pleasure is justified to operate, maintain and manage the zoo. Failure to do that would be a good indication there is not sufficient interest and it should be closed.

The same is true for the animal shelter. A central city government role and obligation is to protect citizens. This includes protection from a roaming dog, cat or other animal that ventures on to their property or may otherwise harm a person. Capture and after a reasonable 14 days euthanize. Any funding beyond that should come from private sources.

This opinion is no more irritating to those of a different view than cat tracks on my garaged car, dog dump in my yard, sleep disturbance by dogs barking at night and the confiscation of money from me to support a zoo and a long term care and placement program for dogs and cats that is not justified.

In today's world of videos, travelogues and documentaries please give me a good reason to change my view and support tax money going to the zoo so a few can gawk at incarcerated wild animals. Why should I support with tax dollars animal care centers beyond the capture, retain and euthanize function?

I have friends and family with very lovable pets that go to great lengths and expense to provide the best possible care and assure no one else is affected by their having a pet other than the positive cash flow to a vet.

February 9, 2011 at 6:43 a.m.
dude_abides said...

Put those monkey fathers in cages for about a month and let the animals feed them. Sort of an undercover boss scenario. These people have a Noahanic complex. They are so benevolent regarding these "lower" life forms. ...and the Lord said treat thy body as a temple, and treat everything else like a freak show.

February 9, 2011 at 7:38 a.m.
bprunty67 said...

Thank you Miss Bond for giving up your job for bring out this mess.

February 9, 2011 at 8:05 a.m.
dao1980 said...

Hey since we all have money to burn.. right?

February 9, 2011 at 8:24 a.m.
ChattGuy1 said...

Come on guys, you have to give the zoo a chance to work through whatever it is they have going on there. Solutions don't happen overnight. I personally think it is a good sign that they are taking all of this seriously and are trying to make improvements. It is not a bad thing at all to bring in people who have a lot of experience in other zoos to help our zoo get better.

February 9, 2011 at 8:31 a.m.
ChattGuy1 said...

Plus, show me where anyone said the $25,000 for the consultants came out of our precious tax dollars. The way I understand it, the money the zoo receives from the City goes to "keep the lights on" (salaries, utilities, etc). Friends of the Zoo is a private entity and can spend their money however they wish. Again, I think we should be encouraged that they are trying to get to the bottom of the zoo's alleged issues.

February 9, 2011 at 8:41 a.m.
jmull said...

Obviousman is on point. Board of Directors & Zoo administrators are playing defense regardless of them saying they’re being proactive.

If they were proactive they would have a Vet Tech already not doing it after several animals had died.

If they were proactive they would have administrative controls including feeding schedules in place instead of having the city administrator point out numerous instances of mishandling money and two animals die for not being fed.

As for conflicts of interest, the most obvious one is having vendors serve as Board of Directors. I don’t see how this is acceptable. We wouldn’t allow a public administrator give a contract to a company they owned.

February 9, 2011 at 11:56 a.m.
fairmon said...

Why should any tax money go to the zoo? Again, if there is not sufficient private support to own, manage and maintain the zoo it should not exist. It is not an essential service for tax payers and local businesses. It and other "feels good" stuff the council and mayor fund could have avoided a significant added confiscation of money from city tax payers. NO ZOO certainly would not inhibit growth and additional employment opportunities as much as the added taxes and fees to citizens and businesses.

February 9, 2011 at 1:26 p.m.
keepergyrl102 said...

6 day work week in order to get ready for AZA inspection! Sounds like someone has a lot to hide and clean up! I hope that AZA actually gets to the bottom of all of this, however I have noticed that the zoo has had time to clean up their act in preparation of the inspections, that seems unfair to me, inspections like that need to be random and without warning to determine if the facility is up to standards and code. I find it funny that even after all of this they still have more to hide and clean up (6 day work week) that is a joke! Why would you do that, that just makes you facility look even worse. I truly feel sorry for those poor caged animals who have no say in all of this. I'm sure if they did they would tell you they want their old keepers back who actually had the knowledge and compassion to feed them and take care of them properly. So sad....

February 11, 2011 at 12:34 p.m.
keepergyrl102 said...

Once again someone in a suit is explaining how much they love the animals when we know for a fact he and the other FOZ members have no clue what truly goes on at that horrible facility, and they probably don't even care, they just do not want their name tarnished.

February 11, 2011 at 12:53 p.m.
keepergyrl102 said...

Muhammad_Van_Buren, I clicked on that link and I urge you all to do the same, UNBELIEVABLE!! Chattguy1 you need to read it to obviously because it explains why everyone is so mad! The zoo never payed back the city the money they stole from us taxpayers! Thats why! Hey how about since you got $25,000 to spend on something as stupid as trying to figure out that your management team is the worst in zoo history and send that money back to the people you stole it from!!!

February 11, 2011 at 7:18 p.m.
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