In recent weeks and months, the Baton Rouge Zoo has experienced a number of back-to-back animal deaths that are both sad and, understandably, have led some to question the cause behind these unfortunate events. It’s natural to feel upset and angry when an animal dies — especially multiple animals in such a short period of time — and we understand that the root of your concern lies in the fact that you love our Baton Rouge Zoo and the animals that call it home. We want to thank you for your concern, and please know that we share in your sadness.
Much like losing a pet, it hurts to lose a zoo animal. All of us who work with the zoo — and especially our keepers and veterinarian — build strong bonds with each animal. We would do anything to ensure the best possible care for these animals, such as immediately taking action when our keepers discovered a cancerous growth in the mouth one of our beloved spectacled bears, Plato. We all have the same goal in mind when it comes to loving our Baton Rouge Zoo animals and hurting when we lose one of them.
We currently have 650 animals in our collection and, among those, more than 14 percent of our 143 mammals are actually considered geriatric. This means these animals have received such excellent care that they have lived long and healthy lives. Additionally, we are constantly working to introduce new animals into our zoo environment, and we are proud that 91 new animals have arrived since January of last year — whether by birth or acquisition from another zoo.
In addition to our passion for providing our animals with the best possible care, there are also a number of requirements with which we are proud to comply.
Every year, the Baton Rouge Zoo undergoes surprise inspections from the USDA, which include looking at the welfare of our animals, their daily care and our facilities. Every five years, we also undergo a yearlong accreditation process through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). Only the top 10 percent of zoos and aquariums in the country achieve this accreditation, as the regulations through the AZA are much more stringent than the USDA’s. These processes include verifying that we hire animal care staff with a preset level of animal experience and provide them with annual continuing education; we also offer an extensive staff training program that includes on-site training, online training opportunities through the San Diego Zoo Global Academy e-learning program, as well as conferences and workshops.
As we have previously communicated, at our request, the executive director of AZA has agreed to send an audit team into Baton Rouge to do a thorough review. We take our responsibility as caretakers of these animals very seriously and are committed to an open and transparent process. That said, this early visit will give us an opportunity to determine if there are areas we can strengthen now rather than waiting until later in the year when the official accreditation process begins.
We know you love our animals — we do too. We know it’s hard to lose them. Our top priority has always been, and will always continue to be, to make sure that our animals are provided with the best possible care. We count ourselves tremendously lucky that these animals are so well loved by our community.
For more information, we encourage you to read the full version of this letter at www.brzoo.org.
Carolyn McKnight is superintendent of the Baton Rouge Recreation and Park Commission, which oversees the Baton Rouge Zoo. Phil Frost is director of the Baton Rouge Zoo.