A Jan. 26-27 federal inspection at the Chattanooga Zoo confirms problems that could have contributed to at least four of 10 recent animal deaths there, according to documents released Friday.
Inspector Susanne Brunkhorst, with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, focused much of her three-page inspection report on two marmosets that died after being without food for at least two days and the snow leopard that lost two cubs while locked out of shelter in bad weather.
She also noted feeding problems that she saw herself. The inspection came after USDA received an anonymous complaint and at the invitation of Zoo Director Darde Long after Hank the chimp became the seventh animal to die in a month.
"During the inspection of the petting zoo area, it was noted that the goats and miniature horses were all very busy eating some hay that had just been placed in the hay rack. It was also noted that there was only one small square bale of hay in the loft," Brunkhorst wrote.
"In addition to the 11 goats and 2 minihorses, the camel and the buffalo highlander cross are also fed hay. One bale does not contain enough hay for 15 animals for even one day."
The inspector noted that keeper logs dated Jan. 11 stated hay was getting low and needed to be ordered soon.
On Jan. 23, the log stated the keepers were out of hay and more should be in this week.
"The log stated on 1/24/11 that the animals were acting fussy without the hay to chew on and were being given extra grain," the inspector noted. "Lack of hay/roughage, especially for the ruminant species, can lead to potentially serious health problems."
The inspector ordered the situation to be corrected immediately.
In a written response to the inspector, Long acknowledged some problems, but she also said the zoo will appeal some of the noncompliance items listed by Brunkhorst.
Long said mistakes were made with the marmosets, which are a type of monkey. No keeper was assigned to them.
"This was not a failure of our keepers to provide care, but an oversight by our management team when preparing the schedule," Long's response stated. "We are deeply disturbed by this, and already [have] taken a step to make sure it will not happen again."
She said the step would be to advertise a new position.
"It should be noted that one of the marmosets had been diagnosed with marmoset wasting disease prior to our acquisition from a private owner," she added.
Long said the zoo was not out of hay on the days the inspector visited. Hay was available in another area of the zoo.
"Animals receive their hay ration in the morning, and therefore there was sufficient hay on site for a daily feeding, and hay was delivered the next morning to the zoo. It is not typical for the zoo to be this low, but the delivery had been postponed by the company," Long wrote.
Long's most vigorous objection was in response to inspector's noncompliance notation regarding the pregnant snow leopard. She wrote that the zoo is appealing that finding.
Brunkhorst's inspection notes the pregnant snow leopard was "out on exhibit with the male" in 20- and 30-degree weather "without access to her den."
After keepers let her inside, they found dead cubs on the rock exhibit and in the outside chute.
"The keeper logs and conversations with staff indicated they were aware she was going to have cubs" and that "they were keeping an eye on her."
Brunkhorst wrote that while snow leopards may be used to cold weather, consideration needs to be taken for factors such as pregnancy.
"Correct from this day forward," the inspection ordered on that and several other items.
Long countered: "My point and concern is that based on the one day of breeding we had seen, the scientific knowledge that we have regarding breeding seasons, birth months, etc., we could not have ascertained that this animal was indeed pregnant."
In an interview with the Times Free Press last week, Long said keepers already had built a birthing area and separated the pregnant leopard from the male.
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, ...