More Zoo Woes : Curators Reveal Coyotes Have Killed Several Birds

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A day after the Los Angeles Zoo director resigned, staff members were laying plans Friday that they hope will save the zoo's accreditation and resolve several urgent problems. Among their top concerns is the control or trapping of coyotes that have broken into the facility in recent months, killing several flamingos and an Andean condor.

The zoo's curators and a spokeswoman acknowledged the flamingo and condor deaths publicly for the first time Friday--adding that such threats to the animal collection must be resolved before inspectors arrive this spring from the American Assn. of Zoos and Aquariums.

"It's the type of thing I would be real concerned about if I was an inspector," Mike Wallace, the zoo's curator of conservation and science, said of the coyote problems.

Attempts to trap the coyotes began recently and zoo officials are expected to recommend extensive repairs to the zoo's dilapidated perimeter fence, which has become particularly unreliable because of erosion from heavy rains.

The killing of the four flamingos within the last two months has also led to the closure of one of the exhibits of the birds at the front of the zoo. Now, the pink birds that had been the first animal exhibit inside the main entrance have been consolidated with a second flock farther inside the zoo.

One of three Andean condors, an endangered species, died last month when a coyote broke into their cage.

The revelation about the deaths comes as Wallace and other curators are drawing up a list of priorities to bolster the troubled zoo, which has gradually fallen into disrepair with deferred maintenance over the last 28 years.

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Zoo officials also said Friday that they will close an African penguin exhibit that has been devastated by disease over the last several years, cutting the collection from more than two dozen birds to four. An Illinois zoo is interested in acquiring the birds, which must pass health exams before they can be shipped.

Chief curator Les Schobert said he hopes that the penguins can be moved within several weeks--an action he had recommended for some time, but that had been resisted by outgoing zoo Director Mark Goldstein.

Goldstein was at work Friday, a day after he announced that he would end his three-year tenure. A proposal to move him to a transitional consulting post is expected to be approved at a special meeting Tuesday of the city's Recreation and Parks Commission. The commission oversees operations of the city-owned zoo.

Goldstein's announcement came the day after a report by three zoo experts warned that the Los Angeles Zoo could lose its accreditation, a potential public relations disaster that would also block its ability to trade in certain animals.

But zoo officials said they hope that publicity from the report and Goldstein's resignation will fire public interest in the zoo and help forge a new public-private partnership, as recommended in the report.

"I think if the public sees us enacting major changes for the animals, they are really going to support that," Schobert said. "We are going to improve conditions for the animals. I think people will feel much better as they leave the zoo."

Among the immediate improvements that Schobert expects to recommend are the new fence, keeper facilities that permit easier access for animal care, and improved off-exhibit holding areas for animals.

The City Council is scheduled Tuesday to discuss the establishment of a special committee that would assess such options and find the financing for them, estimated at $1 million in the first year.

Steve Soboroff, chairman of the Recreation and Parks Commission, said he will push to quickly complete a longer-range $50-million capital project list that was also a part of the report, which was written by the directors of the Atlanta, Seattle and Cincinnati zoos.

An architect is drawing plans for a new great ape exhibit--catering to chimpanzees that have been relegated to a cramped, bare rock outcropping that has been called one of the zoo's worst displays.

Plans will be ready within a couple of months and construction can be completed within a year after that, Soboroff said. The chimp exhibit is expected to gain star appeal because renowned naturalist Jane Goodall is collaborating in its planning.

Soboroff also pledged greater attention to cleanliness and maintenance at the zoo--a concern that has been raised by inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA has the facility under investigation, beyond its routine inspection process, because of repeated problems with the perimeter fence and standards of cleanliness.

The agency, which examines zoos for minimum standards of animal care, noted improvements in the last three years, since Goldstein and Schobert's arrivals. But the agency continues to cite problems with improperly stored food and animal waste and the incursion of vermin into food storage areas.

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