Accreditation Panel Says Oregon Zoo Understaffed

Two veterinarians, two vet techs and a part-time hospital keeper aren’t enough to meet animal needs at the Oregon Zoo.

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) is urging the Oregon Zoo to beef up its veterinary staffing to better serve the park’s 2,000 animals.

An AZA team surveyed the Portland, Ore., zoo in July in advance of an accreditation inspection scheduled for the summer of 2015. Besides looking at the zoo’s veterinary operations, AZA examined the park’s emergency response protocols, organizational structure and relationship with Metro Regional Government, the owner and operator.

The Oregon Zoo employs two veterinarians, two veterinary technicians and a part-time hospital keeper—numbers that AZA called too low.

“Four days per week there is only one veterinarian and one veterinary technician onsite,” AZA noted. “Vet techs also serve as part-time keepers for hospitalized animals after the animal keeper leaves for the day.”

Another issue, AZA reported, is that “people are ‘stretched thin,’ which can lead to reactive versus proactive responses to procedures, preventative health and communications.”

The 64-acre zoo opened a new hospital, the Veterinary Medical Center, in early 2012 and is building or planning the construction of elephant, polar bear and primate exhibits and an African savanna.

The zoo is close to hiring a hospital administrator, spokesman Hova Najarian said. AZA stated that such a move would relieve chief veterinarian Tim Storms, DVM, “of many administrative duties.”

The veterinary staff count has not changed since the report was issued in September, Najarian said.

“We are currently working on identifying projected staffing needs,” he said.

The veterinary staff and park came under scrutiny over the death of an orangutan in January, leading to the dismissal of the zoo director and the demotion of a veterinarian.

AZA does not use a formula to determine adequate veterinary staffing, spokesman Rob Vernon said.

“Each zoo is different, so the number each should employ is subjective and specific to the size and nature of each facility’s collection,” Vernon said. “Our standard is what is necessary to properly care for the animals at that facility.”

By comparison, the San Diego Zoo, which spans 100 acres and houses 4,000 animals, employs four veterinarians. The zoo’s Safari Park has the same number of veterinarians on staff.

The San Diego vets also do field and lab research, spokeswoman Christina Simmons said.

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