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USDA weighs in on zoo

Report documents Arctic fox deaths, faults conditions

August 17, 2012
By BILL SHEA, , Messenger News

One of the Oleson Park Zoo's Arctic foxes that died in June had fleas and possibly anemia, according to a recently released federal inspection report that also noted problems with sanitation and pest control at the site.

The report called for an adequate veterinary care program for the zoo's animals. It also documented animal waste and decayed food in the pens housing the porcupine, Patagonian cavy, wallabies and coatimundi.

A comprehensive pest control policy that includes flea control and mouse traps has been implemented at the site, according to Dr. Diane Happel, the vice president of the Friends of the Oleson Park Zoo. She added that the veterinary care policy has been updated. To address concerns about sanitation in the animal pens, a power washer is now used to clean them, she added.

Article Photos

-Messenger file photo
The rhea at the Oleson Park Zoo takes a break in the shade along with some of the other animals during this summer’s hot weather .

Happel said the United States Department of Agriculture inspectors who check the zoo have knowledge that ''super exceeds'' that of the volunteer group that owns and cares for the animals.

''If they suggest something to us, we're going to take them up on it,'' she said.

The death of two Arctic foxes in late June sparked public criticism of the zoo. That's prompted the City Council to seek a review of the contract under which the volunteer Friends group operates the zoo in the city-owned Oleson Park at the south end of 17th Street.

The July 12 zoo report was filed by Dr. Heather Cole, a veterinarian from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. It provides details on what happened to the Arctic foxes.

According to the report, the female fox was found dead in its pen on June 27.

The male fox was found ''listless and laying in its enclosure'' on June 29, Cole reported. She wrote that the zoo manager, Scott Groat, took the animal to a veterinarian who isn't named in the report. That veterinarian instructed Groat to take the animal home and give it electrolytes. The fox died a few hours later.

That veterinarian later told Cole that the animal was ''beyond help'' when it arrived at his office, according to the report. He said the fleas likely played a role in the animal's death.

''He also stated that he had a 'hard time believing it was the heat' that led to the death of the animal,'' Cole wrote.

The situation prompted Cole to call for better veterinary care at the zoo.

''Failure to seek medical attention and/or provide medical treatments, prevention, and diagnostics in animals with flea infestations showing signs of illness or injury can be detrimental to the health of the animals,'' she wrote. ''The facility must establish and maintain programs of adequate veterinary care that include the use of appropriate methods to prevent, control, diagnose and treat diseases and injuries, including flea infestations.''

Happel said the Friends group has revamped its veterinary care policy. Key new elements include more documentation on vaccinations, and requiring a kind of autopsy called a necropsy when there is an unexplained animal death.

She said containers of animal food are now placed on cement pads, which makes it easier to clean up decayed food.

Happel acknowledged that the zoo has been cited for sanitation problems in the past, but added ''they haven't found any signs of abuse or neglect to our animals.''



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