- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 24, 2004

SALISBURY, Md. (AP) — Veterinarians from a national zoo organization will be allowed to conduct an independent study of animal deaths at the Salisbury Zoo, Mayor Barrie Parsons Tilghman said.

The American Zoo and Aquarium Association, a nonprofit group of which the Salisbury Zoo has been a member since 1976, will formally review the animal deaths.

“My goal is to get to the bottom of this and change policy if it needs to be changed,” Mrs. Tilghman said. “I’m taking this very seriously.”

Mrs. Tilghman said city officials have not concluded their internal investigation that was begun earlier this month in response to a zookeeper’s animal-death report.

In her report, Jennifer Albero, a 17-year zoo employee, cited animal attacks, poor maintenance and disease at the zoo, contributing to 113 deaths over the past five years.

Miss Albero, who is involved in a dispute with zoo Director Jim Rapp, documented the zoo deaths. After her report became public, city officials asked her to submit evidence supporting her charges.

Miss Albero gave officials a follow-up report, which Mrs. Tilghman and other officials have been reviewing since Jan. 15.

Zoo officials have argued that the zoo’s death rate was 6 percent, based on a zoo population of 400.

But Miss Albero insists there are about 250 animals at the zoo, and Mr. Rapp admitted Wednesday his calculation of 400 animals was incorrect.

“The best number we have is 306,” said Mr. Rapp, who includes insects in the count.

One of Miss Albero’s charges has gotten a lot of criticism from city officials.

A great curassow bird died after ingesting several objects, including a shard of glass, a penny and a .22-caliber bullet. Miss Albero claimed the death was because of contaminated soil from the city’s service yard. But Mrs. Tilghman insists that zoo visitors could have thrown items into the exhibit.

“There’s just no way to know for sure,” Mrs. Tilghman said. “But I do know that there were two other curassows living in the same exhibit who were fine.”

Miss Albero said there have been 34 other instances of negligence and inappropriate care practices by zoo staff, including animals going without food, water and clean living quarters.

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