A USDA inspector this month found five more violations at the Chattanooga Zoo, which has been plagued by problems and bad inspection reports over the past eight months.
“The issues noted in the latest inspection have been addressed,” Darde Long, the zoo’s executive director, said Friday in a statement emailed by Robin Derryberry, the zoo’s spokeswoman and a member of the Friends of the Zoo board of directors.
Friends of the Zoo is the group contracted by the city to run the zoo.
Dave Sacks, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said most zoos with good track records normally receive one — perhaps two — inspections a year. But repeat violations automatically trigger a re-inspection in 90 days, he said.
Since late September, the Chattanooga Zoo has been inspected by USDA four times and, in those reviews, the zoo garnered 21 violations, including three repeat noncompliant items.
“If there’s a zoo that needs closer monitoring, [inspectors] will do more — or if there’s a deadline,” Sacks said.
Prior to September 2010, the zoo was inspected in August 2009, when five violations were noted on the inspection report.
Previous years’ inspections normally stated “no noncompliances identified.” When a zoo is violating USDA regulations, the agency refers to it as a noncompliance.
The recent frequency of inspections coincided with a spate of 10 animal deaths at the zoo between November and late January.
The deaths came to light when the zoo’s star attraction, Hank the chimpanzee, died Jan. 24, and unleashed a barrage of criticism about the conditions at the zoo and how the animals were being cared for.
USDA’s most recent surprise inspection occurred May 4, and inspector Susanne Brunkhorst noted problems with zoo feeding, sanitation, cage size and structure safety.
Among the findings:
• The shelves of a refrigerator in the spider monkey building were sticky and dirty. A tray on one shelf held a bag of grapes and cut-up sections of dried-up and shriveled vegetables that appeared to have been kept there for days.
“Staff reported that they were not feeding this food to the animals,” the inspector wrote. “The rubber gasket around the door of the refrigerator had a thick layer of brown grime on it.”
• Monkey food stored on the shelves in the food storage building “with all bags ready to be fed” had expiration dates of Aug. 26, 2010 and Feb. 13, 2011.
“Expired food may no longer be palatable and ... should be discarded or stored in a separate area from food designated to be fed to the animals,” the inspector wrote.
• The fennec fox enclosure has shelves with exposed wire grating because plastic covering the grating is too small. The inspector watched as a fox caught a lower back leg in the wire and twisted it.
“The fox cried out,” the inspector wrote. “The indoor and outdoor housing facilities shall be structurally sound and shall be maintained in good repair to protect the animals from injury.”
• The fencing along the length of a gate in the goat enclosure “is loose and one piece of broken wire with a sharp point projects into the enclosure at goat height,” according to the inspection report.
• A rabbit enclosure did not meet minimum height requirement to allow “normal postural reactions” and to ensure comfort for the animals. The inspection report states the cage was only 12 3/4 inches high.
• The repeat violation also involved enclosures in poor and possibly injurious repair. A 3-inch by 4-inch triangular shaped piece of protective screening material between two exercise yards to separate monkeys that are not compatible was peeled back from the top corner.
“The staff stated that this was corrected after the last inspection but that [the monkeys] again loosened the material,” the inspector wrote. “A second piece of metal wire screening material with numerous sharp points was present at the lower corner of this same exercise yard.”
Long, through Derryberry, said the repeat problem also has been addressed.
“The repeat violations came when a small 3” x 4” piece of temporary mesh covering the off exhibit area fencing was pulled down by our spider monkeys for a second time. This situation has also been corrected,” she said in the email.
November 2010 — A gecko died.
Dec. 10 — A male muntjac, a small type of Asian deer, died of hypothermia after it fell into a koi pond, apparently frightened by barking dogs on “pet night.” Board members since have banned dogs from the facility.
Dec. 15 — A tortoise died. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums faulted the zoo because the tortoise was housed in an inadequate location “with insufficient heat.”
Jan. 4 and Jan. 5 — Two marmosets died while their regular keeper was off and another keeper was not scheduled to tend to them. A USDA inspector confirmed that the marmosets were not attended for two days. Zoo officials said preliminary necropsies showed the monkeys may have had a type of hepatitis virus commonly carried by mice. USDA inspectors previously had noted problems with mouse droppings near animal exhibits and food areas.
May 5, 2011—5 violations, 1 is a repeat
Jan. 26, 2011—6 violations
Dec. 20, 2010—3 violations, 1 is a repeat
Sept. 29, 2010—7 violations, 1 is a repeat
Aug. 25, 2009—5 violations
Jan. 9—A female muntjac involved in the dog-barking incident died of a twisted colon. Board member and veterinarian Mickey Myers said the twisted colon was not connected to the dog-barking incident. AZA recommendations said the muntjac exhibit was small and contained a large electrical transformer as part of the barrier — “not ideal for animals that have a strong flight response.”
Jan. 9—Two newborn snow leopards were found dead 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, though zoo officials had said they were separated. Zoo officials had said they didn’t know the leopard was pregnant until just days before the delivery, though USDA said zoo logs show breeding had been noted. AZA recommended the zoo plan better for births, regardless of whether the animals have been seen breeding.
Jan. 12—A second tortoise died, apparently from the cold, according to the AZA report.
Jan. 24—Hank the chimpanzee died at age 42. A UT necropsy indicates he had heart disease.
Source: Chattanooga Zoo, USDA, AZA
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, ...