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Recent zoo inspections went well

| Tuesday, Nov. 19, 2002, 12:00 p.m.

Neither Monday's fatal attack on a keeper by an elephant nor the recent deaths of eight sharks could have been predicted from recent federal inspection reports of the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium.

The most recent inspection of the zoo by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in October found the Highland Park facility in compliance with all federal regulations.

The zoo is accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, which conducts inspections every five years. Neither zoo officials nor the association would make the accreditation reports available.

Jackson Andrews, director of operations and husbandry at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, audited the zoo two years ago. He said yesterday that he found no major problems.

"We talked to the staff and spent a couple of days there, and we didn't see anything that was unethical in any way," Andrews said.

Valerie McDonald Roberts, a member of the zoo's board of directors and the Allegheny County Recorder of Deeds, said she doesn't think the elephant attack or the deaths of the sharks indicate any systemic problems.

"Just because a person gets in a fender bender doesn't mean that person is a bad driver," she said. "That could mean it was just a freak accident."

Earlier USDA inspections cited only minor problems at the zoo. Those problems apparently were corrected, according to the October inspection.

The USDA in April recommended that the zoo fix a leak in a bear exhibit that was making the floor slippery. Old pipe valves in the exhibit also posed a trip and fall risk, that inspection found.

The inspection also said the zoo needed to fix perimeter fencing so outside animals could not enter and pose a disease threat to the zoo's animals.

In October 2001, federal inspectors faulted the zoo for building an exhibit that allowed the Golden Lion Tamarins to pose a threat to other animals.

A December 2000 inspection found that the ropes and vines in the primate enclosure had deteriorated so badly they posed a threat, especially for the gorillas. Also, three sheep and four goats didn't have adequate shelter from the weather for about three hours each day.

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