Monday, July 2, 2012

Zoo Hires Exhibit Visionist - Alittle Too Late For Wishbone

Last Night an article was posted to

Copied and Pasted:

Terry Maple could sense that Jasper the hedgehog, whom he cradled in his arm while posing for a photo, was uncomfortable with his surroundings.
"I think his stomach is making noises - this could be trouble," he said.
Sure enough, the spiny creature urinated on his crisp blue dress shirt hardly a minute later.
It is Maple's knowledge of the environments animals need to thrive that led the San Francisco Zoo to hire him as its first professor-in-residence. Maple, a former zoo director on the East Coast with a doctorate degree in psychobiology, will advise the zoo on how to put its animals before people when redesigning some of the outdated animal habitats.
"As we build new exhibits, we're putting the animals' wellness first and the visitor experience and other things secondary," said zoo Director Tanya Peterson. "It's kind of a new look at exhibit design."
The zoo has come under fire in recent years for its old and rundown exhibits and charges that animal welfare has not been a priority. Voters approved a $48 million bond in 1997 to rebuild most of the zoo, but critics allege that the money was used to improve the experience for visitors instead of animals.
Bringing in an academic tasked solely to think about how new exhibits might affect animal welfare is an approach no other zoos are taking, according to Maple.
In 1984, Atlanta's mayor asked Maple to take over the city's zoo, which had just been named one of the 10 worst zoos in America after several animal deaths and was described by the Associated Press as an "animal concentration camp."
"The zoo in Atlanta was an embarrassment to the city," said Maple, who served as director in Atlanta for 17 years. "The gorilla was in a terrible cage of bars, steel and cement. He looked like he was in prison, and he was."
Redesigning the exhibit to more closely resemble the wild by adding four habitats for the gorillas to roam proved wildly successful for breeding, and Zoo Atlanta's gorilla collection is now the largest in the nation.
He hopes to have a similar impact on the gorilla exhibit here.
"The gorillas are good, but they're not fully exercising the opportunities that we would give them if we could retrofit that exhibit to make it more natural," Maple said of the more than 30-year-old pit that allows visitors to look down at the five gorillas from a 360-degree perimeter. "That's considered to be just too much looming on the gorilla."
Maple's goal is to make the gorillas and the rest of the animals more active. When talking with architects, he's looking for exhibits that encourage the animals to reach, stretch and jump.
"Just having a lion sleeping in the corner isn't exciting for you or the lion," Maple said.
Building or reconfiguring new exhibits is not cheap. The zoo has raised about half of its $10 million goal to fund a new squirrel monkey exhibit, updates to the South American Tropical Forest building, and additional renovations to its North American region. No funding has been found yet to retrofit the gorilla exhibit.
While serving as a professor in residence, Maple will continue living in Florida, where he is an affiliate professor of psychology at Florida Atlantic University, and come to the zoo for about a full week each month. He will consult for the zoo for six months, with consideration for another six months, Peterson said. She declined to say how much the zoo will pay Maple because his tenure is being supported by an anonymous donor.
It's been almost five years since the zoo's reputation and financial status were imperiled by a fatal animal attack on Christmas Day, when Tatiana the Siberian tiger leaped out of her enclosure and mauled a 17-year-old San Jose man, killing him and injuring his two friends. There is evidence, however, that the zoo may finally be emerging from the tragedy's shadow. Peterson said attendance this year just surpassed 800,000, a number not seen in five years, and that the budget is operating on a "slight surplus."
Local animal activist and zoo critic Deniz Bolbol, who said in an online statement shortly after the tiger incident that "animal welfare problems are at the heart of the San Francisco Zoo's troubles," is not convinced that Maple's hiring will help. In 2008, she was unsuccessful in her efforts to make the zoo a rescue facility.
"They're not interested in changing things at the zoo, they are just interested in keeping the status quo," she said.
Vice President of Animal Care David Bocian, who worked as a keeper at the zoo in the 1980s and was the first to approach Maple in August at a conference on zoo welfare, said animal wellness "is a higher priority than it used to be."
"We can achieve better, and we have achieved better in just these past few years," he said, noting that a new lemur exhibit features the high trees and spacious environment that Maple endorses.

<End of article>

Of course I commented, even though I try not to get too involved with sfgate commenting anymore.

>I'm not sure what to think about this. Of course its a good thing, but why didn't the Zoo management seek help sooner? I was on a crusade to get the Andean Bear some grass in his home for over a year before they let him die on concrete. Its awful that the management team there over the past two decades has not recognized the needs of some of the Animals living spaces, instead paying architects to draw up plpans for new areas when existing areas are suffering and the Animals like Wishbone (Andean Bear) along with them. They have been starting to do some much needed things, like finally get Inti the Bobcat out of the cages he'd been living in for ten years. I just hope they are now putting building any new exhibits to bring in new Animals on the back burner until upgrades are made for the existing Anmals.<

My comment says exactly how I feel in short.  I could go on and on, but readers of my blog know how I feel.  I will add that it does seem curious (I was going to do a post about this)  that all of a sudden I see the Zoo fixing things up.  It is also curious that this comes after they let poor Wishbone pound his bones to a literal death in that concrete killer grotto.  AND only after Wishy passed did they finally get Inti out of the cages they had him living in for ten years.

The Zoo patted themselves on the back once again for that move and sure got alot of press out of their new home for Inti.  Yes it looks great, but its years overdue.  Poor thing was living in a series of cages for a decade.  They don't put that in the press release.  I think it was about time they gave him a proper space to live in.

Next up will be Wishbones areas.  I'd bet they will only being doing something with it so they can bring in a new animal to house there, when the focus should be something similar to what I suggested in a previous post so that Pike and Ulu the Polar Bears can live on a natural surface 100% of the time, not less that 50%, which is what they get now rotating between a meadow and a concrete space.


  1. I completely agree with you on your comments again. "Wellness" should have always been a priority. In my heart I know that if Wishbone's enclosure had been properly constructed, he would still be with us today. Poor Wishbone, living on concrete all those years. The Big Cats are very bored, no more enrichments it appears. They are also locked outside all day and anyone that knows a cat knows they like choices. The public liked to see them inside and up close too. Inti's area is very nice. He seems content.
    There are other areas that need improving before they go and upgrade the gorilla area. It's quite a beautiful and peaceful area over there even though I do understand that they don't like people looking down at them. The Polar Bears area needs a lot of improvement. The meadow rotation went on for a little bit and seems to have stopped again. I am anxious/curious to see how this new guy turns out. I like the concept. We shall see.

  2. I can tell you that things are changing at the zoo, for the better, new ideas and new thinkers are being allowed into the fray, there are actually a few good people there, who care greatly for animal welfare working hard to turn things around. The zoo desperately needs new vision, but it is a very slow process to open peoples minds.
    keep holding feet to the fire.

  3. i'm sorry to see that the "anonymous donor" has decided that's the best use of funds to support the zoo. for the same amount of money -(1 week per month plane/hotel/meal/transportation expenses = approx. $2500 x 6 = $15,000) - dave bocian, vp of animal care and enrichment, could go visit six zoos and study their environments. if the donor is paying $30,000 for consulting fees - extremely conservative estimate - i would rather see them pay you and lee 10k each to teach the docents/keepers/volunteers how to make enrichments and use some of the money for materials. the rest of the money could go to fixing up some of the exhibits that need fixing the most.

  4. Thank you to all who have taken the time to not only read my blog, but to comment. I'm sorry my responces to your comments are tardy. I am usually more prompt, but I was increasingly bothered by this article (and development) that I wanted to write a follow-up post, which I just got to. Sometimes its just too exhausting and frustrating. That said, Please know that I appreciate you all and should have at least posted this right away. ... Onward.

  5. @Lee- Thank you for your comment. I agree with you as well. AND Yes, Wellness should have been a priority and honestly by admitting that it wasn't is SHAMEFUL. ... It really bothers me that apparently the Zoo views upgrades as complete rebuild/renovation, when like I suggest for Wishbone, just landscaping would have not only been the right thing to do for his Body and Mind, but it would have prolonged and enriched his life. Nothing else can be said about his situation. There are no valid excuses why he lived and died the way he did. Awful. ... Yes, we shall see. Sadly, I don't think too much that matters to the Animals in need will get worked on, because for a lengthy article, none were mentioned.

  6. @Anonymous- Thank you for your comment. You are obviously someone who works there, and if you are posting here you must know me and know how much I care about these Animals, othewise I wouldn't spend so much time and energy thinking about them. That said, I respect what you have said and I surely hope this new approach works for the Animals who need the help. I know there are good people, I also know their hands are tied alot of the time. It is too bad those good people who love the Animals and are animal minded are not the ones in charge. The future of our Zoo should be that the Zoo is run by a small group of those animal minded people OR one with an advisory group. A collective Directorship. It shouldn't be a struggle to open minds to doing the right thing. That is probably what is most frustrating to me about the Zoo. What the right thing is, is so obvious, that anyone who doesn't see it shouldn't be on Staff.

  7. @hazel- Thank you for your comment. I agree with you 100% about donor funds. It is curious to me how this comes about. I can only guess its over a socialite cocktail party where the Director says "Oh I wish,..." and a peer writes a check. Sadly the donors do not take an active role in seeking out what really needs funding. Two examples are the Board Chairman David Stanton, who allegedly donated in excess of 100k to Enrichment, an area sorely lacking despite all claims by the Zoo. As well I sent a letter about Wishbone's living situation to the Taubes who were quoted in an article as "wanting to do more for the Animals" and wrote a check for a Million Dollars. Never got a responce from them. So, where I do contend that some donors aren't aware of what is really needed, but only that in which become the Directors focus, the people I mentioned were made aware and still nothing was done for an Animal in desperate need. So, whatever donor this was (if that's even true or just away to get the public's approval of this financially draining expense) quite possibly just thinks its a neccesary move. You are absolutely right. Bocian can do just that. From the article it seems Bocian was hired and then reached out to someone else to help him do the job he was hired to do. ... Thankx for the support, but the Zoo would never pay us to do anything, even when we were on good terms with Management. It would have been wonderful and a benefit to them to have smart, animal minded people on Staff who actually got something done, but I was told long ago that they don't like smart people, because we have opinions and I was told recently that they like to use people. So, they got from us for free why pay for it? We never asked and did it because of the Animals. That said, they still have Ingrid Russel-White in charge of Enrichment in addition to Bocian and neither do much on that front from what I've seen and heard. Lee and I did something a woman who's job it was to do as of two full years ago, and still hasn't from what I've seen and what I've been told. It is truly curious how this place works. And in reference to the rest of the money going to fix up exhibits, alot could be done with that amount. Bottom line to me in regards to fixing stuff up, alot of the Staff is just plain lazy. Lee and I offered to paint Goober's home almost three years ago, at our own expense. They are lazy and don't or didn't want to do anything. Now after several big Animals die and I blog about stuff constantly, is something finally moving. Which direction, only time will tell.


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