Chattanooga Zoo faces federal inspections - | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Chattanooga Zoo faces federal inspections

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By Gordon Boyd
Eyewitness News Reporter

CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- A necropsy of Hank the chimp will be handled by the UT veterinary school.

The Chattanooga Zoo's most famous resident died in his sleep Monday.

Zoo officials say he showed no signs of illness on Sunday. He ate well, played with guests, seemed normal.

Hank was 42-years old and was brought to the zoo in 1976, after spending time as a performer.

Hank is the seventh animal to die at the zoo in the past month. Several people have raised concerns and zoo managers are reacting.

Animal welfare laws do not require a zoo notify the feds every time an animal dies.

Recent deaths have prompted some, in print to raise issues about care and the zoo facilities themselves.

 "We feel of all our animals, he really tells the story of what's gone on at the zoo," says Chattanooga Zoo Director Darde Long.

Hank would spend his final days at the Chattanooga Zoo's showcase Gombe Forest, light years from his life 26 years ago.

"He was probably in the worst condition of any animal at the zoo, a concrete block cage with bars on the front, and bars on the floor," says Long of Hank's living conditions when she started at the zoo.

It's why Long says she understands when zoo lovers raise issues about animal care.

But the concerns also stretch to an inspection by the federal department of agriculture, just before Christmas.

"You won't see any direct, non-compliant issues,"  says David Sacks with the USDA Animal Welfare, "There's not been a rash of animals not getting the care they need."

But inspectors have taken issue with at least one deer and one sheep. Noting both were thin, in the deer's case, no nutrition records for a year and a half. Long says both animals are old.

"They receive the proper food. Whether or not they can process it becomes a matter of not having good teeth to grind it down," says Long.

Sanitation has been an issue. Specifically, the inspector found parts of stool on a food bowl in the Kinkajou exhibit and mouse droppings amongst the spider monkeys.

"It often happens with the primates that they will poop in their bowl, we try to get them changed out. some will urinate in their water bowl because they want to," says Long.

The fed raised 3 issues with the petting zoo; no attendant, loose fences, and a rabbit pen rife with flies, feces and urine.

Beyond sharp fences in the deer enclosure, the feds say the perimeter fence issue is chronic; decorative barriers could allow zoo animals to escape or unwanted animals inside.

"It took us some time to get a full set of netting we could mesh to that would still provide a barrier," says Long, "We find our dealing with the USDA inspectors very helpful."  

The feds make surprise inspections. Chattanooga's Zoo knows to expect a return visit, sometime before late March, mandatory thanks to the fence issue.

Long says the inspectors will find them fixed. The AG department can, in dire cases, suspend or shut down a zoo.

So far, spokesman tells us, his folks have found nothing to warrant a fine, or even a warning letter.

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