Experts criticize SF Zoo exhibits

February 1, 2008 9:11:32 PM PST
Visiting zoo experts criticized conditions at the San Francisco Zoo, saying many of the exhibit areas pose serious problems for the welfare of the animals.

The group "In Defense of Animals" invited three veteran zoo curators to inspect the San Francisco Zoo.

"Problems with management, oversight, and serious problems of animal welfare," says Suzanne Roy, In Defense of Animals.

Dr. Robert Atkinson, a former curator and official of the Royal SPCA in England, calls the zoo "sad and depressing."

"There are things going on there that you'd expect to find in zoos not in the last century, but the century before."

Peter Stroud is the former curator of the Melbourne Zoo in Australia. He says "San Francisco would deserve a zoo which is also internationally recognized and I have to say I don't think you have that at present."

Stroud says the chimpanzee exhibit is just a pit with two tiny islands. He says "the state of the chimp exhibit is third world."

"There is a gorilla exhibit with really inappropriate arrangement of viewing. It breaks basic principles of zoo design," says Stroud.

Les Schobert is a former curator of the North Carolina and Los Angeles Zoos. He says the grey seal exhibit is unacceptable.

"It's a horrible barren exhibit with a tiny pool and he just swims round and round in the pool. The polar bear exhibit is right out of the 40's, maybe the 30's. That's just no way to keep animals anymore."

Zoo spokesperson Lora Lamarca tells ABC7 the complaints are unfounded and she's heard them all before.

"I mean, people who are detractors of the zoo generally say zoos are old, they're inhumane to the animals. The San Francisco Zoo is a jewel of Northern California."

Larmarca says none of the exhibits pose a problem for the animals welfare.

"Absolutely not. If we thought they were, we wouldn't have animals in them."

The zoo says it has spent more than $70 million dollars to upgrade an old zoo. Its critics say most of that money was spent on making it a better place for the public, not for the animals.