Zoo Report Clarifications

May 01 2018

In response to a citizen’s recent presentation to the Metro Council and that has been shared and circulated on social media recently, in which a number of egregious accusations were made regarding animal care at BREC’s Baton Rouge Zoo – we want to provide clarification and set the record straight from the perspective of professionals at the BREC's Baton Rouge Zoo who have worked in zoos their entire careers and developed highly regarded reputations in the industry along the way.

First and foremost, these claims are more than a year old, were immediately investigated by the USDA in August 2016, and ”no non-compliant items” were found. The intervention decisions referenced in this presentation that were made by the Zoo’s qualified team of veterinary and animal care professionals were exactly the precise form of action that should have been taken, particularly in order to prevent over involvement that could lead to even greater risk. The treatment prescribed was proven to be effective and the accurate course of action. When it comes to proper and effective exotic animal care, each situation must be assessed individually and discernment by experts is necessary, which has and will continue to be the policy of the Baton Rouge Zoo.

While photographs serve as a snapshot of what is in the photographer’s viewfinder at the time, they do not necessarily provide a true picture of the real-life occurrences beyond that still-frame shot – particularly if and when the photographer has ulterior motives. In addition to USDA’s findings, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) conducted a site visit in December 2017 and of the 115 accreditation standards in Animal Care, Welfare, & Management; Veterinarian Care; and Staff categories, the Zoo received “acceptable” marks in 97 of these items and no items in these categories were marked “unacceptable.” In fact, in the entire Accreditation report, only 11 of the 375 standards, or less than 3%, were marked as unacceptable – with most, if not all, of these 11 unacceptable marks related to aging infrastructure that will require major capital investments to adequately address.

In addition, the Zoo is annually inspected by the USDA via unannounced site visits. After these USDA inspections, the Zoo has received a “no non-compliant items” report. We have also previously taken measures to request special USDA inspections, again to serve as an independent auditor and ensure our animal collection is managed and cared for in a manner consistent with industry standards.

Our Zoo staff, many of whom have devoted their lives to the safe-keeping and well-being of animals, prides itself on meeting and exceeding such standards on a daily basis, and that passion is evident in spending time with any of these committed professionals.

In fact, in the narrative provided as part of the recent AZA accreditation process, the Zoo was commended for excellent animal care and staff devotion through comments in the report such as, “staff dedication to the zoo is exceptional.” Although the Zoo ultimately did not receive accreditation, animal care was never cited as a reason for this action. As BREC and the Zoo have stated previously and on numerous occasions, this decision was primarily due to aging infrastructure and dated exhibits that are not reflective of modern-day Zoo practices.

It is also important to distinguish that wild animal care and human care are very different. When a human possesses an ailment, they are able to explain it to their health care provider, research symptoms online and even explain the way things feel in seeking help or treatment from a medical professional. In exotic animal care, none of those elements exist. The animals are typically very fearful of any human interaction, especially as it relates to being detained for a medical procedure. The mere act of restraining a wild animal can be enough trauma to cause shock. In addition, anesthesia is not the first course of action and is avoided until deemed absolutely necessary by qualified professionals.

Anesthesia not only presents a risk, much like it does in humans, but the risk of complications is drastically higher with wild animals than humans. Therefore, our staff diligently observes any behavioral or personality changes that may occur in our animal collection and presents those concerns to the appropriate Animal Care Department leadership. However, not every single symptom drives immediate action or medical intervention. In fact, in many cases, overreacting can cause more harm than good. It becomes a balance of weighing the risk versus the reward, and we rely upon the professional judgment made by those who have worked for years and years in this industry with the necessary qualifications and experience to inform their decisions.

While we appreciate the former staff member’s concerns that were voiced in this report shared with the Metro Council, it should also be noted that this individual was employed by the Baton Rouge Zoo was for less than one year and this period of time represented the entirety of their career working at zoos or in animal care. Those professionals who have made and continue to make decisions regarding the well-being of animals at our Baton Rouge Zoo are highly experienced, formally educated, and collectively represent decades upon decades of experience in professional Zoo management and service. We rely upon their expertise and judgment when it comes to making such decisions, and like each of them we care tremendously for all those animals we serve and care for each day at the Baton Rouge Zoo.

It is unfortunate that after the community decided to come together and work as one on improving the Zoo at its current location, these individuals who spoke at this Metro Council meeting and shared a year old report in yet another attempt to divide the community while defaming hard-working, dedicated public employees – presenting such malicious details as facts when the AZA report clearly articulated that the Zoo was and is performing at accreditation standards in Animal and Veterinarian Care areas.

Please click HERE for a detailed and factual description of the cases listed in the anonymous, fake news report. We are proud of the work done day in and day out by our dedicated Zoo staff. They truly care about all the animals at the Zoo and go to great lengths to provide them with an exceptional quality of life.