Zoo Probe Brings Mixed Results
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Zoo Probe Brings Mixed Results

By Tim Hrenchir, The Capital Journal, 28 Jul 2010

Topeka Zoo director Brendan Wiley discloses Wednesday the USDA cited the zoo for four issues following an inspection this week. Still, Wiley says he and his staff have a better relationship with the agency than the previous administration.

An inspection report from the USDA referenced a report where a visitor dropped a cup into the bear exhibit. Plans are to put up some kind of a barrier to prevent this from happening.

Topeka Zoo director Brendan Wiley had good news and bad news Wednesday.

The bad news was that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had cited the zoo in connection with four noncompliance issues resulting from a routine inspection it made earlier this week. The inspection was the first conducted during Wiley's tenure as zoo director by the USDA, which cited the zoo for eight issues during its last inspection visit, in April.

Wiley said the good news was that this week's inspection ushered in a "new era" in which the USDA and zoo employees began working together to resolve the zoo's problems after previously dealing with each other in a manner that was largely adversarial.

"The more communication you have, the more dialogue you can have, the more help you can get from the inspectors," he said.

Wiley stressed that USDA inspectors, in oral comments that weren't part of their written report, complimented the zoo on its improved record keeping, more positive atmosphere, more confident employees and "very happy hippos."

The 2006 death of a hippopotamus was among incidents that drew attention to the zoo, which has been the subject in recent months of critical USDA reports and a March decision by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to table its accreditation. Most of the zoo's top-level management, including former director Mike Coker, left or have been terminated since late last year.

Wiley, who became zoo director May 24, encouraged local newspaper, radio and television reporters attending a "Breakfast with Brendan" event Wednesday morning at the zoo's Hill's Black Bear Woods to work with the zoo as it seeks to restore trust and fix its battered reputation.

Wiley then spoke at an afternoon news conference in which he handed out copies of the report from this week's USDA inspection and sought to explain "what it tells you and what it doesn't, which are two drastically different things."

The report said the zoo received:

Two citations linked to the discovery of numerous flies on and around two female lions, who had lesions on their ears consistent with repeated fly bites, and numerous flies on and around a feeding area in the outdoor portion of the gorilla exhibit.
One citation linked to zoo patrons being able to easily drop items into the outdoor bear exhibit, where zoo records examined by the USDA showed plastic cups were dropped into the exhibit on April 17, June 4 and June 11. Two of the cups were chewed on by a bear or bears.
One citation linked to the indoor portion of the hippopotamus enclosure in the zoo's Animals and Man building's having areas of peeling paint and rust on the vertical bars and bottom portion of the concrete walls.
"These areas were observed with embedded grime, hair and fecal material, and therefore were not able to be cleaned appropriately," the report said.

The report indicated the zoo previously had been noncompliant regarding pest control in the lions' exhibit and the ability of the public to easily drop items into the bear exhibit.

Wiley said the zoo either had taken or was planning to take steps to remedy all four noncompliance issues.

He stressed that zoo staff members had essentially alerted USDA inspectors to the three issues regarding the flies and the Animals and Man building.

Wiley also said that zoo staff members are coming to understand what the USDA looks for well enough that "we can find and resolve issues before they do."

He said that while he felt displeased about the four citations, "We left that exit meeting with such positive feelings about this relationship and how it will move forward that you couldn't help but be a little excited about the opportunity that's before us."

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