Atlanta Zoo Head Says Conditions Never Better
ATLANTA (AP) _ The Atlanta zoo, criticized last year as one of the country’s 10 worst, has been improved so swiftly that even the man responsible for the upswing says he is surprised.
″The momentum is tremendous. Fifteen months ago, I was scratching my head wondering if we were going to be able to do this,″ new zoo Director Terry Maple said following a ceremony Tuesday in which Atlanta and Fulton County officials signed a joint agreement formally launching plans for the new $25 million Zoo Atlanta.
During the ceremony, County Commission Chairman Michael Lomax and Atlanta Council President Marvin Arrington signed papers creating the Atlanta-Fulton County Zoo Inc.
Under the agreement, control of the zoo will be transferred from the city to the independent governing body, which Maple said would allow the zoo to align itself with industry, which he sees as the major source of $9 million the Atlanta Zoological Society has promised to raise.
The rest of the money will come from the city and county, which have pledged to underwrite $16 million in eight-year bonds issued by the Atlanta- Fulton County Recreation Authority.
The zoo received national publicity last year following the death of at least nine animals, including Twinkles, a 15-year-old Asian elephant who died mysteriously while traveling with a circus in North Carolina. Charges of neglect and cruelty followed the deaths of several rabbits allegedly killed and eaten by a keeper, and the discovery in a dump truck of the decapitated body of a baboon.
″Things were so bad, it was hard to find one person responsible,″ Maple, a primatologist at Georgia Tech, said about the time he took over the zoo. ″So my game plan was to rebuild a winner from within. I brought in middle managers from the outside, but really worked with the staff already here.″
The zoo lost its accreditation with the American Association of Zoological Parks and Aquariums. It is to be inspected for possible reaccreditation next year.
The ranking as one of the nation’s 10 worst was done by Sue Pressman, former director of captive wildlife for the Humane Society of the United States, and was published in Parade magazine last year.
Ms. Pressman, a private zoo consultant, toured the Atlanta zoo in March and said, ″If I were to list ... today the 10 worst zoos, Atlanta could not be on it.″
Since he took over, Maple said, he has hired a full-time veterinarian and general curator and other staff. Animals who were not thriving in Atlanta were moved to other zoos, he said.
Landscaping improvements and a cleanup probably also have contributed to a resurgence of public interest in the zoo, he said. Attendance this year may top the 450,000 mark set in 1983, he said.
Maple said he believes the zoo already has overcome its tarnished reputation. At a national gathering of zoo directors in Ohio last month, Maple said, the new staff received only plaudits.
″Everybody said, ’Wow, you guys are really moving,‴ he said. ″I think this is one of the swiftest turnarounds ever.″