Friday, May 27, 2005

Chicago Zoo Under Fire Over Deaths

Chicago Zoo Under Fire Over Deaths

Inquiries Multiply As Criticism Mounts

By Kari Lydersen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 27, 2005; Page A03

CHICAGO -- The first thing visitors see entering Chicago's Lincoln Park
Zoo is the elephant enclosure, empty since the well-publicized deaths of
the three elephants in less than two years. The deaths have fueled a
national debate over whether elephants should be housed in northern

But the elephants' deaths are only the most publicized after a rash of
animal deaths in the past six months at the Lincoln Park Zoo, a free zoo
north of downtown beloved by generations of Chicagoans. Three langur
monkeys, a camel, three gorillas and a 17-day-old marmoset are among the
other animals that have died recently, and a gibbon's arm was amputated.
Critics attribute the deaths and amputation to poor conditions and

A visitor at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo reads a note expressing regret
over the deaths of the langur monkeys. (By Charles Rex Arbogast --
Associated Press)

The critics, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
(PETA), have called for a change of management. Zoo President and CEO
Kevin Bell offered to resign, but the zoo's board did not accept his
offer. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investigating the zoo, and
the Cook County state's attorney's office is monitoring the USDA
investigation. The American Zoo and Aquarium Association is completing
an audit, and the Chicago City Council is considering a nonbinding
resolution to prohibit elephant exhibits.

"According to whistleblowers who have come to us, there is a problem
with inexperienced keepers and insufficient training," said PETA staffer
Debbie Leahy. "And the vet care seems to be what suits the zoo, not
what's best for the animals."

Zoo officials did not respond to several requests for comment this week.
Mayor Richard M. Daley, who has called the zoo one of the city's
"jewels," has defended Bell and the zoo and said there is no need for an

PETA said several zoo employees have come to them with information about
previously unpublicized animal deaths, including those of the camel and
the marmoset, which the zoo later confirmed. The three endangered
Francois langur monkeys died after being transferred to a new enclosure
in early May. PETA speculates that they died from toxic pesticides or
poisonous berries near the enclosure or from a disease harbored by
gibbons, the previous occupants.

Zoo officials said the camel, which died in December, suffered from a
gastrointestinal infection, but PETA said a source inside the zoo told
them the camel was left outside overnight and likely perished from the
cold weather. After the camel death, the USDA cited the zoo for being
out of compliance with shelter requirements for inclement weather.

The gibbon's arm was amputated after he broke it reaching out of his
enclosure for food.

"You should have the enclosure designed so he can't do that, or you
should have a staff member watching at all times," said RaeLeann Smith,
spokeswoman for the group In Defense of Animals. "In the case of the
langur monkeys, they should have done a better job preparing the
enclosure before they moved them. If you have a cat, you go through the
house taking out harmful things it might eat. It's common sense."

PETA says they also learned about the death of a lion cub in December
that has not been talked about by the zoo. They said an employee
reported that the otherwise healthy cub died of dehydration and
malnutrition because its mother was not producing milk.

The zoo has often declined or been slow to release information about
problems, including the camel's death and the gibbon's amputation. Last
year it refused to release documents about a lion attacking a worker.
PETA is pressing the zoo to release medical and other records, including
necropsy reports. So far the necropsy reports have been made available
only to some reporters for on-site viewing.

"We have to get rid of this shroud of secrecy," Leahy said. "We've asked
for medical records and keeper logs, we want to know about every
sedative and antidepressant they've been given, their activity level,
their appetite."

Critics say Wankie, the elephant that died recently, was not properly
prepared for her transfer to the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, where she
was being sent after she lost her companions Peaches and Tatima. Zoo
officials said Tatima died at age 35 in October 2004 from a rare
respiratory infection and Peaches, 55, died of old age in January.
Elephants usually live from 60 to 80 years. Wankie, 36, was trained to
use the transport crate only for a matter of weeks, according to PETA
sources, instead of months, as has been done in other successful moves.
Her trouble started when she lay down in the crate on the journey.
Elephants can lie down for only about two hours before their weight
crushes their organs and tissue starts to die. Transcripts of a 911 call
made in Nebraska show that after attempts to unload Wankie failed, the
crew kept driving for many more hours.

The zoo association is auditing Lincoln Park's care of animals,
veterinary practices and administration. Jane Ballentine, the
association's director of public affairs, said the various deaths do not
appear to be related. "Animals dying in and of itself isn't a reason to
be alarmed," she said. "We'll look for a disease pattern, gaps in care,
whether procedures are being followed."

The controversy evokes revelations of poor conditions, care and
record-keeping at the National Zoo in 2003 and 2004, when a former staff
pathologist released documents charging that veterinary mistakes and
staff errors were responsible for at least 36 animal deaths. A report on
the zoo by the National Academy of Sciences found problems with animal
care, record-keeping, pest control and other issues.

Most visitors to Lincoln Park Zoo on a recent sunny day said they hope
replacement elephants are brought in, though Bell said he has no plans
to acquire any. But they had heard about the deaths. They said they
thought some of the animals looked sick and unhappy.

"Every week, it's another death," said student Ronnie Lewis, 30, as he
paused just inside the zoo's entrance.

"It's just too many animals dead," said Sonya Burns, 36, a nursing
assistant. "Something's going on here."

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