Some zoo animals ‘may be suffering’

An expert should be hired to inspect the living conditions and health of grizzly bears, a polar bear and African animals at the San Francisco Zoo because they “may be suffering,” according to recommendations in a new city report.

The report was requested by the Board of Supervisors during a debate over animal-welfare and public-funding issues, which was reignited in the wake of a  deadly tiger escape Dec. 25, 2007.

Because it was still waiting for the report, the board at its last meeting postponed a vote on a proposal by Supervisor Chris Daly to convert the zoo into a facility that cares for rescued animals. That vote is scheduled for Tuesday.

“Some of the zoo’s animals may be suffering physically and mentally because their enclosures do not meet contemporary zoo standards,” three legislative analysts wrote in a 17-page report released Friday.

However, the analysts noted that they are “not zoo experts” and they said an independent expert should be hired to further investigate their findings.

The zoo’s animal care director, Bob Jenkins, told The Examiner a consultant wasn’t needed to inspect the facilities because it has already shown “more than 100 professionals” through the grounds.

“We know the exhibits and the spaces that need help,” Jenkins said. “We can certainly look at some sort of experienced individual, but I don’t think we’re going to learn that much.”

Jenkins acknowledged that the polar bear and spectacled bear exhibits need work, but he said the grizzly bars and animals in the African savanna exhibit are well cared for.

Jenkins said staff was ready to renovate the dilapidated eastern half of the zoo, which includes the polar bear enclosure, but he said the Board of Supervisors needs to fund those efforts.

Mayor Gavin Newsom and Supervisor Bevan Dufty, who oppose transforming the zoo into a home for rescued animals, recently proposed commissioning a report to show that some current zoo-dwellers already are rescued animals.

“About 100 out of the 750 animals at the San Francisco Zoo are rescue animals,” said Dufty, who described Daly’s plan as unworkable.

Daly was dismissive of the proposal. “That’s great, but what about the other 650 [animals]?” he said. The report released Friday also examined the zoo’s education and conservation efforts.

“The zoo meets most standards on education, but there is room for improvement in some areas. Most notably, it does not have a written education plan,” the report found. “It needs to develop and implement some form of regular evaluation of its conservation efforts.”

jupton@sfexaminer.com

By the numbers

100: Acres of public space used by the zoo
753: Animals at the zoo
203: Species at the zoo
$19.7 million: Annual operating expenses
$11.4 million: Revenue from ticket sales and other programs
1.09 million: Annual visitors
Source: San Francisco Office of the Legislative Analyst

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