Rescue-focused zoo plan put out to pasture

The underfunded San Francisco Zoo will not have to make drastic changes to transform into a rescue center.

Operations of the zoo came under close scrutiny following last year’s Christmas Day attack, when a tiger escaped from its enclosure and mauled three young men, killing one. After the incident, city officials immediately began to investigate the facility’s operatons. The attack also exposed faulty animal enclosures.

Costs associated with improving safety following the attack also put the zoo in a budget quagmire this year, officials said.

Supervisor Chris Daly proposed transforming the zoo into a rescue center, with a strong focus on animal welfare. On Tuesday, he could not gain enough votes at the Board of Supervisors’ meeting. In a bid to win support, Daly changed his legislation to just establish an animal-welfare oversight committee to recommend how the zoo should operate in the future. Daly’s bill was defeated by a 7-4 vote.

Critics said it was unnecessary and the zoo should operate under its existing mission.

“We are on a path to get the zoo improved,” Supervisor Bevan Dufty said.

“This legislation would not have prevented that horrible, horrific, tragic accident,” said Supervisor Sean Elsbernd, referring to the fatal mauling.

Dufty said the zoo already includes rescue animals and changes are under way to ensure improved operations, including oversight by Carl Friedman, director of Animal Care and Control. Dufty said Friedman’s efforts will “create the atmosphere in which we can get the focus that we need on animal-welfare issues so that we create a larger base of support for the zoo.

“The zoo needs more resources.”

The San Francisco Zoological Society took a strong position against Daly’s legislation and campaigned heavily against it. The society said the bill would “take the zoo backward, not forward” by losing its ability to participate in national zoo-conservation programs, such as its garter snake recovery program. 

Acting zoo director Tanya Peterson acknowledged that some older exhibits are in need of improvement. She said a master plan recommending facility improvements is expected in six months and will be heard by the Recreation and Park Commission. She said a more aggressive fundraising campaign will kick off soon.

jsabatini@sfexaminer.com

In other action

In a 10-0 vote, the environmental review of the $1.3 billion Central Subway project, the 1.7-mile line planned by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, was adopted and appeals calling for more mitigation measures were rejected.

Supervisor Tom Ammiano introduced an ordinance to spend $498,304 in the city budget reserve to fund additional community-based organizations in the Mission district, in response to recent violence in the neighborhood.

Supervisor Jake McGoldrick introduced a resolution urging the Department of Public Works to revisit the newly launched reduction in street sweeping from once every week to every two weeks in residential neighborhoods. Public Works has said the reduction would save about $1 million.

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