Zoo to learn its AZA inspection result today

Zoo to learn its AZA inspection result today

March 19th, 2011 by Pam Sohn in News

Chattanooga Zoo officials will learn today how they did in an Association of Zoos and Aquariums inspection earlier this month.

But zoo and AZA officials say they do not plan to open the meeting to the public.

"Those are closed meetings, usually attended only by the accreditation commission, the accreditation staff and the institution, and we maintain those [inspection reports] as confidential documents," said Steve Feldman, spokesman for AZA, a members-only private trade organization that first accredited the Chattanooga Zoo in 1998. "It's up to the institution to decide when and how it makes those findings public."

Accreditation means zoos and other animal-care facilities are following strict AZA requirements for animal care, facilities, programs and staff.

Robin Derryberry, zoo spokeswoman and Friends of the Zoo board member, said the AZA report will be given to the media after it is shared with the Friends of the Zoo - possibly today. Friends of the Zoo contracts with the city to run the zoo.

"I'm not sure when we will receive the report. It may be as early as [today], but I'm not sure at this point," she said. "As soon as it is received, it will be sent to the [Friends of the Zoo] and then made public. ... We will have a written statement for the media after [today's] hearing."

ZOO ANIMAL DEATHS

• A male muntjac, a small type of Asian deer, died after it fell into a koi pond, apparently frightened by barking dogs, which were brought by visitors to the zoo on "pet night."

The deer died of hypothermia, zoo officials said. The zoo board announced in February after the Chattanooga Times Free Press published reports of the incident and the other animal deaths at the zoo, that dogs would be banned from the facility.

• A female muntjac involved in the incident died 29 days later of a twisted colon. Board member and veterinarian Mickey Myers said the twisted colon was not connected to the dog-barking incident.

• Two marmosets died while their regular keeper was off and another keeper was not scheduled to tend to them, zoo whistleblowers said.

A U.S. Department of Agriculture inspector, checking the zoo in wake of complaints and with a zoo invitation, confirmed that logs stated that the marmosets were not attended for two days.

Myers has said final necropsies are still pending on the marmosets, but he does not believe they died from going two days without food. He said preliminary necropsies show they had a type of hepatitis virus commonly carried by mice. USDA inspectors have noted problems with mouse droppings near animal exhibits and food areas at the zoo.

• Two baby snow leopards were found dead shortly after being born outside in freezing temperatures while the cats were locked outside their shelter.

USDA inspection reports confirm the female leopard was locked with the male leopard outside the den. Zoo veterinarian Tony Ashley told USDA inspectors he performed necropsies on the leopard cubs and could not determine if they were stillborn or died later.

A third cub, born later inside the den, survived and made her six-week debut at the zoo in late February.

Zoo Director Darde Long referred requests for comment to Derryberry.

After seven zoo animals died over a month's time during the recent holiday period, the AZA received two requests to inspect the zoo and investigate potential problems. One request came from a member of the public; the other came from the Chattanooga Zoo itself.

Feldman said three things could come of the early March inspection.

Accreditation commissioners can:

• Allow the zoo's regular five-year accreditation to continue through 2013.

• Deny continued accreditation.

• Take a middle step and require progress reports and additional inspections in six months or a year.

AZA normally only inspects its members every five years for accreditation renewals, Feldman said.

The Chattanooga Zoo is currently accredited through 2013, according to Derryberry.

Feldman said AZA inspectors normally have an exit interview with zoo inspectors after they visit a facility and before they issue a report.

Derryberry said Long did not have an exit interview with AZA inspectors.

Once or twice a year, an institution does not receive accreditation or renewed accreditation, Feldman said. Fewer than 10 percent of the about 2,400 animal exhibitors licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture are AZA accredited, Feldman said.

About 500 AZA officials and members are expected to be in Chattanooga all of next week for the organization's midyear meeting, a date set long before the local zoo's animal deaths came to light.

The Tennessee Aquarium is hosting the meeting, which will include an icebreaker event at the aquarium on Monday evening and a "zoo day" on Tuesday during AZA's week of accreditation hearings, board and committee meetings and educational sessions.

The weeklong AZA conference is not open to the public, Feldman said, since much of it is educational and training programs for zoo keepers.

Zoo whistleblowers have suggested zoo problems escalated after Chattanooga turned zoo operations over to the Friends of the Zoo last fall. The move came on the heels of a city internal audit that found numerous records-keeping and money-management problems.

POLL: Should the zoo-AZA meeting be open to the public?

When Friends of the Zoo took over, a number of long-time zoo keepers who had benefits and pensions with the city chose to move to other city jobs, according to whistleblowers and board members.

Derryberry and Long have called the whistleblowers "disgruntled former employees" and said newly hired employees are better educated and have more experience.