Wednesday, February 05, 2003

THE DARK SIDE OF ZOOS

Animal House
Charlotte Metro Zoo has been cited over a dozen times by the USDA. Critics wonder why it's still open.
BY SAM BOYKIN

[Sidebar] ..."Are you sad, little monkey?" I overheard one grinning dunderhead cheerfully ask as she filmed her two kids tossing crackers to a pathetic looking chimpanzee, its arms outstretched through the bars of its cage. I guess that's part of the "human interaction" to which the pamphlet referred....

Less than an hour's drive from Charlotte in Rowan County, Charlotte Metro Zoo boasts -- along with our city's name -- a stable of over 100 animals, including baboons, chimpanzees, bears, wolves, camels, kangaroos, llamas, some 30 big cats, and nearly a dozen small, exotic cats. Steve Macaluso, the owner of the wildlife collection, has for years been criticized by animal rights activists. Groups like PETA have alleged Macaluso guilty of everything from overbreeding, taking baby animals from their mothers prematurely for commercial purposes, fasting the animals, keeping them in isolation or in inappropriate groups, and failing to provide proper shelter. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued numerous "non-compliance" citations to the zoo, including: failure to provide big cats with a veterinarian-approved diet, failure to maintain and clean enclosures, and failure to provide shelter from the elements. There have also been several well-publicized cases of animals escaping from the zoo, including a 1997 incident when a chimpanzee named Sydney broke free and roamed the area for a week, scaring nearby residents. As animal control officers attempted to return Sydney to his cage, the chimp broke free and bit a TV cameraman twice on the arm. This incident resulted in a USDA investigation and a $750 fine....

On June 6, 2002, the zoo was cited once again for failure to provide an individually housed primate -- in this case a chimp named J.R. -- with the proper environment enhancement to meets its social and psychological needs. "Since this chimp is housed alone, it needs even greater amounts of enrichment to occupy his time," the inspector wrote....

The zoo's final inspection last year came on October 9. For the third time, it was cited for not providing adequate housing for J.R. the chimp. "Individually housed primates must be able to see and hear primates of their own compatible species," the inspector wrote. "Singly-housed chimp still cannot see other primates."

When I visited the zoo a few weeks ago, J.R. was still housed in solitary. When asked about this, Macaluso explained that he had to get rid of his other chimp, and that the "USDA was not thrilled with that."

"Being that we have other primates, the USDA says that it's got to see another primate," Macaluso says. "Well, I totally disagree with that. To help solve the problem, there's a very good chance we're going to get rid of the one chimp we have right now. I'm going to send it to a friend with a female chimp that's looking to breed. Then when we're ready, we'll bring that chimp back. Not that it will make the chimp any happier; the only reason I'm doing it is because the USDA wrote us up."...