- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The National Zoo’s management called a new report on animal deaths and zoo operations fair and accurate.

“It’s a good report,” interim director David L. Evans said yesterday. “We’re committed to implementing the recommendations that the academy has made.”

After several animal deaths at the zoo in early 2003, Congress asked the National Academies’ National Research Council to conduct a yearlong review of the Northwest facility and its Conservation and Research Center in Front Royal, Va.

The panel released an interim report in February detailing problems with animal care, management, record keeping, pest control and a lack of a long-term plan. The scientists released their final report yesterday.

“The National Zoo has made some noticeable improvements in the past year in zoo operations and animal care, but problems in areas such as staff training, workplace culture and strategic planning still need to be addressed,” said R. Michael Roberts, chairman of the committee.

Mr. Evans said the zoo has taken the earlier recommendations to heart — improving record keeping, staff training and communication between departments.

“The National Zoo remains one of the top zoos, maybe not the premier zoo at this point, but we’ll certainly get back there,” he said.

The report highlighted staff training. Mr. Roberts noted that animal keepers had “no prior experience” and had worked their way up as volunteers. He suggested the zoo reach out to more experienced workers.

Mr. Evans said the zoo is having better luck sending staff to zoos and to the American Zoo and Aquarium Association for training.

“Animal keeper jobs are not jobs that have initial starting salaries that are very high. People don’t typically move cross country to take jobs like that,” he said.

Mr. Evans said he was pleased the report found that in the majority of the 48 cases examined, the animals that died had received appropriate care during their lifetimes.

The panel also noted that a lack of direction in the early 1990s led to a decade of decline. The zoo is still without a permanent leader after embattled director Lucy Spelman officially stepped down last month.

The search for a replacement has been ongoing for seven months. Mr. Evans said a search committee recently turned to an international agency after unsuccessfully trying to find a suitable candidate.

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