San Francisco Zoo under new scrutiny

February 22, 2008 7:28:41 PM PST
Since the fatal tiger attack, the San Francisco Zoo has been the focus of more investigations than you can count on one hand. And now, ABC7 has learned that starting next Friday, yet another commission will be holding hearings on the zoo. This time though, the investigation won't be on the tiger attack, but on whether the zoo is actually mistreating its animals. It's a story you'll see Only On 7.

"There's heightened scrutiny and a new conversation happening about what's appropriate at the San Francisco Zoo," says San Francisco supervisor Chris Daly.

This kind of scrutiny hasn't happened since two elephants died four years ago. Under pressure, the zoo closed its elephant exhibit. The Board of Supervisors then ordered the zoo to renovate other exhibits and make operational changes.

Since the fatal tiger attack, the zoo has been the target of a half-dozen investigations. Now the Commission of Animal Control & Welfare is launching its own. The group advises the supervisors on animal issues.

"We've had people come to us with issues about and concerns about the welfare of some of the animals at the zoo," says Sally Stephens of Animal Control & Welfare Commission.

Specifically, the group In Defense of Animals, which has been a frequent and vocal critic. Recently they invited several veteran zoo curators from outside the Bay Area to inspect the zoo. All were highly critical, calling some of the exhibits "inhumane and unacceptable."

Now the Recreation and Parks Commission has formed its own task force of outside experts to review all aspects of the zoo.

The group met for the first time last Saturday at a meeting hosted by Rec and Park officials. Tthe director of the Houston Zoo and the curator of the Bronx Zoo flew in for the occasion. On their agenda will be the charges made by the visiting zoo curators.

"They spoke in a public comment forum and we're absolutely going to seriously consider their comments," says Rose Dennis of San Francisco Recreation and Parks Commission.

Supervisor Chris Daly also wants them to look at converting the zoo into a rescue sanctuary for animals at risk.

"I think that would teach our kids the right thing about animals and animal welfare," says Supervisor Daly.

Mayor Gavin Newsom tells ABC7 he welcomes all the critiques.

"We've had a lot of peer review that has been done and they say these conditions have been very good for the vast majority of animals. Are there ways to improve? The zoo is the first to acknowledge that," says Mayor Newsom.

A team from the Association of Zoo and Aquariums, which accredits animal parks, is also investigating the zoo.