Chattanooga Zoo study calls for improved organization after animal deaths

Chattanooga Zoo study calls for improved organization after animal deaths

August 10th, 2011 by Pam Sohn in News

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/Times Free Press.

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

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.

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.

Gary Chazen, chairman of the board of the Friends of the Zoo, talks to the Chattanooga City Council in this file photo.

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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