San Francisco supervisors consider turning S.F. Zoo into wildlife rescue center
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 2008:
SAN FRANCISCO–The San Francisco Board of Supervisors are to
decide in September 2008 whether to convert the zoo, one of the
oldest in the U.S., into a wildlife rescue center.
“Supervisor Chris Daly proposed the measure six months after
a tiger escaped on December 25, 2007 and fatally mauled Carlos Souza
Jr., 17, of San Jose,” San Francisco Chronicle staff writer
Marissa Lagos reported on August 8, 2008.
As drafted, “The measure would make animal welfare a
priority at the zoo,” Lagos wrote, “and would require that any
future acquisitions be rescued animals, including those who were
abused or were confiscated by law enforcement after being illegally
owned or imported. The zoo would be barred from acquiring new
animals ‘unless the needs of all animals currently at the zoo have
been met.’ Some breeding programs for endangered animals would be
allowed to continue.”
Daly’s proposal would also increase the supervisory role of
the Board of Supervisors, reducing the ability of the zoo director
to shape the zoo’s mission.
Approximately 100 of the 700 animals now residing at the San
Francisco Zoo came from situations that would meet the rescue center
Many zoos accredited by the American Zoo Association do some
animal rescue work, but only one of note, the former Discovery
Island Zoo in Orlando, Florida, operated by Walt Disney Inc., has
been converted entirely into a rescue center. Just 24 years old when
converted to wildlife rehabilitation in 1998, Discovery Island was
already considered hopelessly obsolete compared to the best newer
zoos, and became redundant when Walt Disney Inc. opened the nearby
Wild Animal Kingdom.
Operating rescue centers has, however, become a successful
sideline at many zoos accredited by the Central Zoo Authority of
India, and some prominent Egypitan animal advocates argue that
becoming a rescue center would be the most viable direction for the
117-year-old Giza Zoo in Cairo, whose collection already consists
largely of animals who have been confiscated from smugglers.
“There are high costs associated with the care of rescued
animals,” objected interim zoo director Tanya Peterson, “and many
donors restrict their funds. This would limit the funds we have for
education and conservation.”
AZA-accredited zoos are expected to emphasize endangered
species conservation, captive breeding to perpetuate zoo collections
without resort to wild capture, and public education. The AZA does
not accredit rescue centers, and suspended former San Francisco Zoo
director Manuel Mollinedo from participating in AZA functions in 2004
for sending the zoo’s last two elephants to the Performing Animal
Welfare Society refuge in Calaveras County, California, instead of
to any of four AZA-accredited zoos that wanted them.
“In January 2005, the AZA conducted a three-day inspection
of the zoo,” San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Patricia Yollin
recounted in 2006. “Two months later, the AZA announced that the
zoo’s status had been tabled for a year, giving it time to correct
operational and maintenance shortcomings, from rust in the Primate
Discovery Center to clutter throughout the zoo to lack of
participation in the AZA’s species survival plans.”
The zoo was reaccredited in March 2006, but was rapped by
the AZA after the Souza mauling because security staff disbelieved
his two companions when they reported the escaped tiger, instead of
immediately investigating; because the zoo was understaffed during
the Christmas holiday; and because the one zoo staffer who was
trained to shoot escaped animals did not have the keys to the
location where the zoo shotgun was stored.
Credited with significantly improving the Los Angeles Zoo in
seven years as executive director there, Mollinedo resigned after
less than four years at the San Francisco Zoo in February 2008,
embarrassed by the discovery that the walls around the tiger’s
enclosure were much lower than he had thought, and blamed for poor
San Francisco Department of Animal Care & Control director
Carl Friedman briefly filled in as zoo director.
Officially 79 years old, the San Francisco Zoo expanded from
much earlier beginnings as a menagerie in Golden Gate Park,
featuring Monarch, the last California golden bear, who was
captured in 1900. A highlight of Mollinedo’s tenure as director was
opening a new grizzly exhibit.
An investigation by KCNS news of zoo records pertaining to
the tiger who mauled Carlos Souza revealed in June 2008 that the
tiger weighed 50 pounds less at the time of the attack than she had
two years earlier, when she was transferred from the Denver Zoo
after injuring a Denver Zoo staff member.
“Some experts outside the zoo say the tiger’s behavior,
weight loss, and diet raise serious questions about whether she was
getting enough to eat,” KCBS said. “And some say that may have been
a factor in her attack on a zookeeper in 2006 and the fatal attack on
Carlos Souza Jr. in December.
The San Francisco Zoo had fed the tiger 36 pounds of meat per
week, six pounds less per day than her Denver Zoo rations.