The Zoo Blues - Page 2

The animals are mistreated. The executive director is getting rich. Privatization has failed the San Francisco Zoo.

Zoo's animal mistreatment, it is threatening to fine the zoo thousands of dollars — and one foundation that had given hundreds of thousands to the zoo has withdrawn its funding.

* Thanks to a string of expensive bond issues, the public is still paying for the zoo, but zoo executive director David Anderson has seen his own salary substantially boosted.

* Marketing expenses have skyrocketed, and the zoo is heavily dependent on amusement park–<\d>type rides and other non-educational attractions to break even.

* City officials have become so skeptical of the zoo society's ability to manage itself that Board of Supervisors president Tom Ammiano called for an audit last spring. Stanton W. Jones, an auditor who works for budget analyst Harvey Rose, is expected to release the audit late this summer.

In fact, the zoo is a case study of everything that is wrong with privatization.

A bad place to live

The push to privatize the zoo got rolling in 1990, when David Anderson was brought in from New Orleans's Audubon Park and Zoological Garden. The zoo's infrastructure was crumbling, and its finances were in bad shape. Sources in the Recreation and Park Department say Anderson enthusiastically advocated privatization as a solution.
Without accepting bids from other organizations, Rec and Park handed over control of the zoo to the private San Francisco Zoological Society, which had been raising money for the zoo since 1954. In the summer of 1993 the society agreed to lease the premises and take over management of the zoo, promising to balance its budget by June 30, 1998 (see "Sold!," 10/19/94).

Anderson has made out handsomely from the deal. In 1994 the society paid him $81,443; by 1997 his total compensation had gone up to $148,500, including a $25,000 bonus — in a year when the zoo was still losing money.

The animals have fared much worse.

Within the past two months the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which governs animal care in zoos, has issued the society a warning. According to the USDA, inspectors have repeatedly notified zoo administrators about problems. If those problems aren't corrected, the agency is now threatening to fine the zoo.

"We made it clear that they are not doing a good job on maintenance," Wensley Koch, supervisory animal care specialist with the USDA's western sector office, told the Bay Guardian. "Basically there's a management problem."
Records of inspection reports dating back to 1990 reveal problems throughout the zoo facilities — from the big cats' lairs to the monkeys' quarters. Wood is rotting; fences are rusting. Rats get into food areas and leave droppings.
Many of the problems are associated with the primate center, which has been a trouble spot since it was built in 1985. The colobus monkeys' metal climbing bars were grooved. Since keepers couldn't clean them of feces, the monkeys got sick from contact with their own excrement. The colobus population was decimated. According to Sandra Keller of Citizens for a Better Zoo, which was watch<\h>dogging the zoo at the time, 53 of the 85 primates in the center died.

"Once they opened it, the animals started dying," Keller told the Bay Guardian. "They didn't quarantine the new animals sufficiently when they were brought in. They basically wiped out the whole primate collection. It was heartbreaking."

But turning the zoo over to the private society didn't help. If anything, conditions are worse. A September 1996 USDA inspection found feces all over outdoor structures in the primate center. And in April 1997 an inspector noted that rat feces were found in the gorillas' indoor housing area and that weeds and bushes grew out of control in the outside exhibit.

Inspectors frequently found that problems they had repeatedly brought to the society's attention had not been addressed.

Also from this author

  • Emeric Kalman, 1931-2008

    Tenacious in his activism, Kalman never walked away from an issue