Little Rock Zoo cleans house

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1998:

LITTLE ROCK––David Westbrook,
49, director of the Little Rock Zoo since
1984, and a staff member since 1977,
resigned on May 15 after a week on paid
leave, “possibly avoiding a suspension or dismissal,”
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter
Jake Sandlin speculated.
Westbrook was to remain on the
payroll through June 30. Westbrook was previously
suspended at least twice for failing to
promptly remedy problems at the zoo.
Westbrook’s wife Kelli, a zoo nursery keeper,
reportedly also missed some work time during
Westbrook’s week on leave, but was retained.
Interim zoo director Carroll Hargrove confirmed
almost a month later that the zoo was
being investigated by the USDA for operating
without a federal exhibitor’s license. The zoo
was eventually given until July 20 to pass
USDA inspection.

Westbrook had evidently waited
until four days before the previous license
expired, on November 28, 1997, to apply for
renewal. After the application reached the
USDA, the zoo reportedly flunked relicensing
inspections in January and May due to
allegedly inadequate fencing and failure to
address the social needs of individually
housed whitehanded gibbons and siamangs.
The lack of a USDA permit also
jeopardized the Little Rock Zoo’s already
shaky American Zoo Association accreditation,
which has been conditionally renewed
on a year-to-year basis since 1995. The zoo
since 1994 has been embroiled in a series of
controversies due to obsolescent and unrepaired
facilities, frequent escapes of animals
including bears and gorillas, animal deaths
leading to allegations of inadequate veterinary
care, improper disposal of manure, alleged
harassment of former staff and volunteers who
made some of the problems public, allegedly
missing concession revenue, allegedly missing
pelts of endangered animals who died at
the zoo, and three years of steeply declining
attendance, a trend finally halted in 1997.
A 1996 consultants’ report funded
by the Roy & Christine Sturgis Charitable and
Educational Trust, of Dallas, recommended
that the 72-year-old zoo should either be
closed or be extensively renovated.
Westbrook’s departure, Sandlin wrote, came
“as the city is on the verge of issuing $16.5
million worth of a $22 million revenue bond
package and includes $1 million for zoo and
golf course improvements.”
The $1 million would be part of a
$7.5 million seven-year renovation plan
announced in February, to begin with construction
of a $3.5 million “Arkansas Farm”
exhibit. Another $500,000 for the exhibit is to
come from the Sturgis Foundation, which
matched and doubled funding made available
by Friends of the Zoo and the state of
Arkansas. Also part of the renovation plan are
a new lion habitat, an amphitheatre, a restaurant,
and a visitors’ center.

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