Tulsa Zoo Staff Defends Actions, Again

Tuesday, June 8th 2010, 1:46 pm
By: News On 6

By Emory Bryan, The News On 6  

TULSA, OK -- The Tulsa Zoo Veterinarian and the Director of Tulsa Parks again defended their actions surrounding the hypothermia death of a giraffe, which led to a $5,000 fine from the USDA. The City Council called in the staff for questioning after the fine was levied last week. 

6/3/2010  Related Story: Tulsa Zoo Faces Fine, Violations Over Death Of Giraffe

Since the incident, Parks Director Lucy Dolman said she ordered that cold weather policies changed immediately for all zoo animals, started a renovation plan for the giraffe enclosure, including new heating and new doors and changed the change of command at the zoo to clarify who is in charge of what during animal emergencies. 

The chain of command was modified after an order from the zoo veterinarian was not followed in the hours after a giraffe was found to be in distress because of cold weather. 

Zoo Veterinarian Doctor Kay Backues said she told staff to move in large propane fired heaters, but other staff, which was concerned about the noise frightening the animals, moved in smaller electric heaters instead.

"There was some staff concern that the noise that those would cause would be frightening," said Dr. Kay Backues, Tulsa Zoo veterinarian. "So they moved in some smaller electric heaters which were insufficient."

When Dr. Backues realized several hours later what had happened, she says she ordered the staff to move in the more powerful heaters. The animal eventually died of hypothermia. 

Dr. Backues said when the giraffe enclosure was built 25 years ago, it was designed to have a heated floor, but it has never worked. She said it has insufficient insulation to handle prolonged cold weather and called the decision 25 years ago to not repair the heated floor "a terrible mistake."

"We have an 80 year old facility that has had inadequate funding not just for a year or two, but for a couple of decades," she said.

The zoo plans to improve the giraffe barn with better insulation and heating, but for now still has a 25 year old building that cannot keep animals warm during extreme cold.

Councilor GT Bynum commended the staff for preventing more deaths, considering chronic underfunding of infrastructure at the zoo. 

Councilor Bill Christiansen asked the vet to come back to council if the last remaining giraffe comes into any danger because of cold. He said "to me it's just unacceptable" that someone delayed following her recommendation to use maximum heat to the animal. Several councilors noted the poor condition of the barn where the giraffes are housed. 

Backues said the zoo had not yet decided when to purchase a new giraffe.

6/8/2010  Related Story: Freedom Of Information Act Request Concerning Tulsa Zoo Giraffe Denied