published Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Report urges changes at Chattanooga Zoo

  • photo
    The gate at the Chattanooga Zoo features zoo animals.
    Staff Photo by Angela Lewis

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums inspection report says six of the eight animal deaths between Dec. 10 and Jan. 24 at the Chattanooga Zoo resulted from “an unfortunate series of unrelated events.”

“We do not see any medical or management connection between six of the eight deaths,” states the AZA report.

Yet those “unfortunate” and “unrelated” events — the deaths of two snow leopard cubs, two muntjacs (Asian deer) and two marmosets (monkeys) — also showed up on a list of policy and management changes the AZA recommends and applauds in its eight-page special inspection report, released Monday by Chattanooga Zoo spokeswoman Robin Derryberry.

The AZA is a trade and nonprofit member organization that accredits zoos. It is holding its midwinter meeting with about 500 members this week at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

The snow leopard cubs were born in inclement weather while the mother was locked outside her den, and the two muntjacs were frightened by dogs during a zoo event before one had a seizure and fell into a koi pond in freezing weather. The other muntjac died 29 days later of a twisted colon, but zoo officials have said that was unrelated to the dogs incident.

Chattanooga Zoo Special Report
Chattanooga Zoo Special Report

The marmosets died days after it was discovered that because of an “administrative error,” they went without food for two days. Zoo officials and the AZA have said the marmosets did not die from going without food. The animals already had significant weight loss due to an as-yet-undetermined liver ailment, they said.

AZA did fault the Chattanooga Zoo for the deaths of two tortoises, which inspectors said were housed in inadequate locations with insufficient heat.

Among the policy and management changes recommended by AZA, zoo officials already have or soon should:

  • • Plan each year to have the off-exhibit holding area for pregnant leopards prepared by December for a possible birth, whether or not actual breeding has been observed. Breeding had been observed several times between the zoo’s snow leopards, and zoo officials have now adopted this plan.
  • • “Prevent animals from being harassed by dogs.” Zoo board members already have said dogs — which were allowed in only for special events — are now banned from the zoo. The report also said the muntjac exhibit, small and containing a large electrical transformer as part of the barrier, “is not ideal for animals that have a strong flight response.”
  • • Send all animals that die at the zoo for necropsy at the University of Tennessee. Not all 10 animals that died in December and January received UT necropsies, including the muntjacs and snow leopard cubs.
  • • Upgrade the zoo’s winter holding facility for tortoises and not keep them improperly in the zoo “quarantine room” or the basement of the zoo education building.
  • • Implement additional measures for “improved supervision by the management staff” to foster better communication through regular zookeeper meetings and updated zookeeper report forms. AZA said this already has begun.
  • • Have a veterinary service come to the zoo twice a week, instead of once. AZA said this, too, already is implemented, and the zoo also has hired a veterinary technician.
  • • Improve pest control. AZA said the zoo has a new pest control provider with a “much improved program.”

The AZA’s “special inspection” of the zoo in early March was prompted by a complaint from a former zoo worker and by a request from zoo officials after the death of Hank the chimpanzee on Jan. 24. Hank, 42, was one of the zoo’s most-popular animals and the AZA inquiry did not include his death. His UT necropsy indicated he died of heart disease.

Animal deaths

Gecko — November

Male muntjac — Dec. 10

Tortoise — Dec. 15

Marmoset —Jan. 4

Marmoset — Jan. 5

Female muntjac — Jan. 9

Snow leopard cub — Jan. 9

Snow leopard cub — Jan. 9

Tortoise — Jan. 12

Hank the chimp — Jan. 24

Source: Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Chattanooga Zoo

Hank’s death unleashed a barrage or criticisms of the zoo as whistleblowers revealed that 10 animals had died in about six weeks in December and January. The AZA also did not probe the death of a gecko that zoo veterinarian Tony Ashley said died in November.

Derryberry, who also is a member of Friends of the Zoo, the organization contracted by the city of Chattanooga to run the zoo, said Sunday that the AZA continued the zoo’s accreditation but will make a “progress recheck” in September.

The zoo, like other AZA accredited members, pays $3,125 a year to be a member of the organization, Derryberry said Monday. Additionally, the Chattanooga Zoo has 10 employees who have paid for their own individual memberships in AZA at a cost of $95 each, she said.

AZA spokesman Steve Feldman said neither the memberships nor the local meeting had any impact on the AZA’s inspection and report.

“Clearly the accreditation commission was tough but also fair. Nobody’s tougher on us than us,” he said.

Contact Pam Sohn at psohn@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6346.

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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