In recent weeks, some zoos have been in the news. In Dallas,a gorilla escaped and hurt some visitors. Police shot and killed it. A report criticized the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. for not preventing the deaths of animals there. News reports have suggested that these incidents might be connected to financial struggles. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports… top zoo officials say any budget cuts should not affect the care and keeping of the animals:
In recent weeks, some zoos have been in the news. In Dallas, a gorilla escaped and hurt some
visitors. Police shot and killed it. A report criticized the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. for
not preventing the deaths of animals there. News reports have suggested that these incidents
might be connected to financial struggles. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham
reports, top zoo officials say any budget cuts should not affect the care and keeping of the
(young child talking about the lion)
In the lion house, children have left “Get Well” wishes. On one piece of
notebook paper there’s a pencil and crayon drawing of a lion, with messages
surrounding it. One reads: “I hope you feel better because you deserve to
live. Love, Ashley” Another reads “I hope your cancer goes away. Love,
Last November, zookeepers at the Potter Park Zoo in Lansing, Michigan
noticed something was wrong with Samburu, a big male lion. Jan Brigham is
one of the zookeepers. She says Samburu wasn’t as energetic as usual. And
there were other signs something wasn’t right…
“We noticed a weight loss on him and mainly through his hindquarters, like his pelvic bones. So,
even though his stomach was somewhat big – and now we know why – his hindquarters, you
could see a weight loss.”
Even after he was fed more meat, the aging lion didn’t seem to get any heavier.
The zookeepers kept the veterinarian Tara Harrison up to date about the situation. Dr. Harrison
decided it was time to anesthetize the big cat and check him over. His spleen was enlarged.
“And found out that there was cancer in it, so, then we decided to schedule a date for surgery.
And we removed his spleen and took samples of other organs as well and started him on
(Samburu growling in distance)
Down in the kitchen, behind the lion exhibit Bruce Snyder is getting a big
package of meat ready for Samburu. They’re still giving the lion extra
food, trying to build his strength, but they’re also putting chemotherapy
drugs into the meat.
“Instead of a fast day, which the bone day, we’ve been giving him
meat everyday along with his bones. I just take and stuff these pills in
it. LG: It’s a lot like a hamburger, sort of. “Yes. So, what we do is
just mix this up. He’ll scarf this down real quick.”
These days Samburu is feeling a little more feisty…
You don’t want to get between him and his dinner.
This story is the way it’s supposed to happen. Zookeepers keep a watchful
eye on the animals. The vet takes action. The animals live. Little kids
wish them a speedy recovery. And for the most part… that’s what happens.
But some zoos have been struggling. And a debate is beginning. The
question is: are the problems in the news lately signs that zoos are
Bob Cook is Chief Veterinarian at Wildlife Conservation Society which
operates, among other things, the Bronx Zoo. He also chairs the Animal Health Committee of the
American Zoo and Aquarium Association, the membership organization of the
nation’s zoos. Dr. Cook says things are tough at some zoos.
“I’d say, in general, zoos have really been challenged since 9/11.
Attendance has been off in some places. Governments, local, state as well
as federal, the cuts that they make often trickle down. But, let me be very
clear that the one thing that is central to all of our missions is
maintaining the health and welfare of these very special animals which we
Cook says they can cut back on education programs, cut outreach programs,
but zoos should not, cannot, must not cut back on the care and keeping of
the animals. He says budget cuts really shouldn’t have anything to do with
the zoo keepers keeping a close eye on the animals. He believes the
problems that have put some zoos in the news lately have simply been human
mistakes or design flaws in the enclosures, not signs that zoos are cutting
back on the care of the animals.
Still, the news reports at the problem zoos often note financial struggles
and we’re all left wondering if there’s a link.
At Samburu’s home, the zookeepers say they’re keeping an eye on the lion’s
attitude and behavior. His cancer is in remission… and he’s acting fierce again.
Zookeeper Jan Brigham says in the 15 years she’s been taking care of Samburu,
he’s never been what you’d call friendly, but she’s really happy the tough
old cat is doing okay for now.
“I mean it was a big surprise to all of us that he has gone into
remission. How long he’ll be in remission, we don’t know. And we accept
the fact that, you know, we may have only extended his life six to twelve
months, but if that’s what it is, then so be it. But, yeah, we’re all happy
with the outcome.”
Samburu’s story is making the rounds among zoos. It’s a good news story
when too often the bad news about zoos makes the front page. The silver
lining about that is that zoos across the nation are reviewing their
procedures and making sure the care for the animals is everything it should
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.