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3 ex-workers blast Hogle Zoo
But director says changes made after ’97 gorilla attack

SHARE 3 ex-workers blast Hogle Zoo
But director says changes made after ’97 gorilla attack

If the Hogle Zoo had installed safety devices and implemented other measures that were recommended 1 1/2 years ago, the recent chimpanzee attack on two employees probably would have never occurred, three former zoo workers say.

Recommendations for upgrading zoo safety were contained in a zoo internal investigative report issued following the attack by a 450-pound male gorilla, Tino, on former zoo primate supervisor, Bob Pratt, on Aug. 7, 1997.Pratt, who retired last July 31 after 34 1/2 years at the animal park, said he still has permanent nerve damage in his left arm as a result of injuries inflicted by Tino. The attack by Tino occurred in the same building where the chimps injured the two workers Feb. 27.

The investigative report, dated Sept. 2, 1997, was never made public by the zoo, and its recommendations were never implemented, according to the former zoo workers. The zoo would not allow the news media to interview Pratt following the 1997 incident with Tino.

In an interview Thursday, zoo Executive Director Craig Dinsmore disputed the former workers' allegations, saying the zoo did make "mostly procedural changes" after the gorilla incident. He didn't elaborate what they were, but he said any changes made would not have necessarily prevented another incident.

"It doesn't matter how many systems or how many safety features you add, you can't negate the impact of human error," Dinsmore said.

The former zoo workers, who have questioned management decisions made by Dinsmore and zoo general curator Kimberly Davidson, are Pratt; Dr. Ross S. Anderson, who lost his job as zoo veterinarian last April 13; and Marjorie "Marj" Jones, ape keeper at the zoo un- til she quit her job Feb. 26, the day before the chimpanzee attack. She worked 13 years at the zoo and was an assistant to Pratt before he retired.

The 1997 report, a copy of which was obtained by the Deseret News, was written by Anderson; Andrew Wallace, former zoo marketing director; and Richard Andrews, current zoo foreman. Their recommendations included:

Additional mechanisms or barriers in the Great Apes Building should include placement of a barrier at the top or bottom of stairs leading from a catwalk to the kitchen.

A baffle (partition) should be installed between split-level stairways to prevent movement of an animal between handrails and to make gates at the top of the stairways more secure.

A gate leading to the door in the public foyer should be equipped with a locking mechanism that inhibits its use by an ape but allows keepers to enter or exit the area in an emergency.

A security gate in the basement should be equipped with an automatic closing device.

In their report, the zoo team said the gate, which separates a kitchen from animal quarters, was "folded and propped open in such a way that it precluded the possibility of being shut. The impact of this is that the gorilla was afforded direct access to the kitchen and then to the outside through (an) open garage door."

The investigative team pointed to many problems connected with the building but also noted that a number of safety features in the building were apparently "overlooked or overridden" by workers there.

Anderson, Pratt and Jones maintain that the installation of additional safety barriers and other equipment would have kept the chimpanzees from getting through a larger area of the building to a main-level area where zoo volunteer Jamie Bradley, 28, was working.

Bradley was critically injured by at least two of the chimps. Kimberly Tropea, 35, was attacked, but less severely injured, when she tried to protect Bradley. Bradley was in fair condition Saturday at University Hospital. Tropea was treated and released following the attack. Two of the chimps were shot and had to be euthanized.

In his own account of the gorilla incident, a copy of which accompanied the investigators' findings and recommendations to zoo officials, Pratt acknowledged his own "mistakes" in connection with the gorilla escape.

Pratt said they included leaving an upper-level door open and going into an unsecured transfer chute area just off Tino's basement bedroom and holding area. Shortly after beginning work there, Pratt was abruptly surpised by a visit from Tino.

"I remember being crashed around (by the gorilla), then stopping on my right side with Tino standing on my legs, his right hand on my hips and his left hand on the floor by my chest. He stood there a few seconds (it seemed like two days), then put his mouth by my cheek, made a couple of threat (warning) coughs, then turned and went out a door of the basement holding area and turned toward the kitchen," Pratt said.

Many other zoo workers, including Anderson and Andrews, rushed to the aid of Pratt, who used his two-way radio to report the incident as he left the area via a flight of stairs. And the gorilla returned to his area without further intervention by zoo officials, according to the report.

Pratt said Tino, who is still at the zoo, is "not a mean animal" and "was behaving in a normal manner as he perceived his (Pratt's) presence as a threat to his territory."

The report by the investigative team, headed by Anderson, commended Pratt for being "factual" and acknowledging his own mistakes. They also cited him for his "level-headedness in handling the situation to avoid panic." Pratt, now 59, suffered five puncture wounds on the upper part of his left arm and left torso and was knocked down.

He was taken by ambulance to a hospital, treated and released from the hospital the same day.

Anderson, who noted that the Great Apes Building was never designed to hold chimps but only orangutans and gorillas, said this week that he has supplied copies of the 1997 report to U.S. Department of Agriculture investigators who are looking into the chimpanzee attack.

The zoo was the subject of an earlier investigation by USDA, which resulted in a negotiated settlement in November 1995. In the settlement, the zoo did not admit to any of the 11 alleged violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act. But zoo officials agreed to the assessment of a $25,000 civil penalty.

Anderson and Pratt say they don't know why zoo administrators didn't follow through on recommendations following the 1997 gorilla incident. They said it wouldn't have cost an excessive amount of money to install additional safety doors and other equipment.

The Great Apes Building is a "complex building with lots of room for error. Not all (animal) transfer doors are visible from the location of the door-operating mechanism. It is a building in which workers have to pay close attention to what they are doing and to the animals. Keepers need to know where the animals are at all times and must never assume where they might be. You have to think both for yourself and the animals," Pratt said.

Former workers said "many blind spots" and complex door handling and locking mechanisms make the building a difficult place to work.

"Adequate keeper training is imperative in the zoo, particularly in this building, or any building where potentially dangerous animals are housed," Pratt said.

Dinsmore said the "only firm conclusion" that has been reached so far in the zoo's own investigation of the chimpanzee incident is a "strong indication of human error." He said Tropea, who had worked at the zoo only two weeks but had 14 years experience at the Bronx, N.Y., zoo as primate supervisor, had keys to the building and "primary responsibility for the doors and the safety features."

Cyndy Andrews, zoo director of marketing and development, said the zoo investigation has not yet been completed, but officials plan to release findings at the same time the USDA issues its report. That is not expected for several weeks.

Andrews said Tammy, the sole surviving chimp, will be transferred to another zoo and the Great Apes Building will remain closed indefinitely. Workmen were laying carpet there Thursday, she said.