Pam's Points: Utter destruction and otter deception

Pam's Points: Utter destruction and otter deception

November 12th, 2013 in Opinion Times

A man walks home with his son Monday following Friday's devastating typhoon that lashed Hernani township, in eastern Samar province, in the central Philippines.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Largest typhoon recorded

Just days into the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda, the largest storm of its kind recorded, we're hearing that more than 10,000 people might have been killed when it blasted the Philippines.

This is a quote from the International Business News: "The massive typhoon ... affected more than 4.28 million people in 270 towns and cities, according to the Philippines Social Welfare and Development Department. The death toll is expected to exceed 10,000 people. Hundreds of thousands more have been displaced."

The official death toll early Monday was 942, and officials predicted that number would rise considerably.

Yolanda, also called Super Typhoon Haiyan, slammed into the central Philippines on Friday carrying storm surges of 20 feet. In its wake, it left freighters in neighborhoods where debris blocked roads and trapped decomposing bodies.

It was the equivalent of a Category 5 hurricane, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration.

More storms, stronger storms, more extremes. We have an impact on weather. When will we listen and take action?

Deception, for Pete's sake

Pete, the otter, was as much a Tennessee Aquarium animal icon in Chattanooga as was Hank the chimp, famed mascot of the Chattanooga Zoo. So Pete's passing on Sept. 5 at an undisclosed private facility in South Carolina, where he and pal Delmar went for a vacation while their Tennessee Aquarium digs were renovated and expanded, came as a blow.

But another blow is the Aquarium's deception about Pete's death. On Sept. 17, more than two weeks after Pete died, Aquarium officials were telling Times Free Press reporter Barry Courter that Delmar and Pete were being introduced to four new otters at a private rehabilitation facility and all six would return to Chattanooga in late February or March 2014.

When Aquarium spokesman Thom Benson announced the 9-year-old otter's death last week, he acknowledged that he knew of the death at the time he was telling the media Pete and Delmar were acclimating to their vacation digs and new friends. Why? Because the officials were awaiting a necropsy report and deciding how to care for the remaining five otters.

That's a poor excuse. Ask the zoo. The zoo lost a dozen animals in a matter of months a couple of years back. They got preliminary necropsy results on most of those animals in a matter of days, though they sometimes waited longer for lab results and to release the reports.

The zoo took some publicity smacks, as headlines about dead animals are never warm and fuzzy. But the zoo also had other problems, including federal inspections citing numerous violations and even repeat violations that prompted increased oversight and inspections from the U.S. Department of Agriculture within a single year.

The Aquarium has no such poor record. According to USDA's zoo inspection database, Aquarium inspections in September 2011, 2012 and 2013 are completely blemish-free.

The zoo had workers and volunteers complaining of poor conditions there. The Aquarium does not. So why did the Aquarium take an action that smells like a cover-up?

Now Aquarium officials tell us the necropsy on the aging Pete (the normal lifespan of an otter is 9 in the wild and 12.5 years in captivity) was "inconclusive."

We have no reason to doubt this. Or do we? Probably not: Animals die. The zoo's Hank, for instance, was also an old man, and both his preliminary and final necropsy indicated he died of a heart problem.

It's acceptable for zoo and aquarium animals to die of natural causes and even accidents. What's not acceptable are poor conditions - or deliberate deceptions.

The public deserves better.