Councilors worried about surviving giraffe's care
BY SARA PLUMMER World Staff Writer
Thursday, January 21, 2010
1/21/10 at 4:07 AM
Several city councilors are concerned about the welfare of the remaining giraffe at the Tulsa Zoo while awaiting a focused inspection by experts from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
A few city councilors said they aren't confident that the current giraffe exhibit is sufficient to care for the remaining giraffe, Samburu, who was born at the Tulsa Zoo 17 years ago.
"They're going to have to do something. They've had two deaths and questions are being asked," said Jim Mautino, District 6 councilor. "(Zoo officials are) aware they have a problem now and it really needs to be looked at."
Most of the city councilors are taking tours of the zoo and its facilities this week and next.
"We've never had this problem before. I feel like they are capable," said District 5 Councilor Chris Trail. "I would hate to lose those beautiful animals, but if we can't keep them safe, we shouldn't have them."
G.T. Bynum, District 9 councilor, said he has drafted a letter to zoo director Terrie Correll asking that the Tulsa Zoo's remaining giraffe be loaned to another zoo until a better barn can be constructed.
Mayor Dewey Bartlett said he is glad an independent review has been requested, but he doesn't feel the zoo was negligent in the giraffe's death.
District 2 Councilor Rick Westcott agreed and said he hopes the focused inspection points out changes that need to be made so this doesn't happen again.
"No one is hinting that there was any intent. Everyone at the zoo is heartbroken," Westcott said.
Steve Feldman, a spokesman for the AZA, the independent accrediting organization for zoos and aquariums in the country, said it was in the process of finding the right experts to conduct the focused inspection.
The Tulsa Park and Recreation Department requested the focused inspection after the death Jan. 10 of a female giraffe, Amira, 9. The zoo's veterinarian, Kay Backues, determined the cause of death was hypothermia.
Amira arrived in October from the Santa Barbara Zoo in California.
Another female giraffe, 5-year-old Amali, died Dec. 3 at the zoo from a neck injury she suffered in October while being transported from The Wilds zoo near Cumberland, Ohio.
Feldman said zoos and city governments request focused inspections from time to time to address concerns that may exist in a community.
Park Department Director Lucy Dolman said: "They can provide expertise in the review of animal care and management. We're really looking forward to this process."
Feldman said the AZA conducts regular inspections at participating zoos and aquariums to maintain accreditation. Three-person teams conduct the regular inspections of entire parks and aquariums that can take three to five days. The Tulsa Zoo is accredited through September 2012.
Focused inspections are similar, but the amount of time can vary depending on the scope of the inspection, he said.
Dolman said the review team would look at the zoo's animal husbandry, veterinary care and facilities. The team is expected to conduct the focused inspection before March 1. Tulsa Zoo Friends is funding the review team's travel costs.
Backues said keepers followed all cold-weather procedures such as restricting the giraffes to their heated barn when the temperature reached 40 degrees and bringing in additional hay to block large drafts.
When keepers noticed Amira was acting lethargic on the morning of Jan. 9, portable heaters were brought into the barn as well as more hay bedding. By that evening Amira was having trouble standing and when she lay down, an electric blanket was placed over her and staff members began giving her warm water enemas and warm intravenous fluids to bring her core body temperature up, Backues said.
"She had been in that barn since Christmas Eve. She was alert and eating. She wasn't giving us any sign of concern until that day," she said. "That barn had always been sufficient in the past."
Looking back, Backues said the staff did everything they knew how to do in that situation.
"That's all we could have done," she said.
Correll, the zoo's director, said the zoo was evaluating its cold-weather protocols and procedures, which were followed during the extended period of cold temperatures in late December and early January. She said she was glad the Park Department asked the AZA to form a review team.
Backues said the focused inspection is good for the zoo and for the community.
"I'm ready and want them to look at everything," she said. "Make sure we're doing everything we can so we can give the animals the best care we can."
The animals are the focus for the staff at the zoo, Backues said, and the death of the two female giraffes has been difficult.
"It's been very hard for us," she said. "There's no lack of caring and passion out here."
World Staff Writer Brian Barber contributed to this story
Sara Plummer 581-8465