Lowry Park zookeeper fired
By ABBIE VANSICKLE
Published August 25, 2006
TAMPA — Lowry Park Zoo officials on Friday fired a zookeeper who left a door unlocked, allowing the escape of a Sumatran tiger that later was shot to death.
The man, whose name has not been released, was fired following an internal review, according to a statement released Friday evening by the zoo.
“The zoo’s staff members have been through an extremely difficult and emotional week following Enshala’s death,” wrote Lex Salisbury, the zoo’s president.
“Our priorities must be to get back to the business of operating the zoo, helping our staff through this period, and focusing on our animal collection.”
Salisbury called the loss of Enshala the tiger “extremely traumatic.”
Just before closing time Tuesday, 14-year-old Enshala slipped through an unlocked zookeeper access door in the tiger’s night house. She roamed freely about the empty Asian Domain exhibit as zoo officials herded the zoo’s remaining visitors into restaurants and other secure buildings.
Salisbury shot and killed Enshala after a failed attempt by a veterinarian to calm the animal with a tranquilizer dart.
Federal and state agencies are investigating the incident, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which has said it will recommend a criminal charge be filed against the zookeeper.
Zoo staff declined to comment further on the matter, other than to say the zoo has “extensive emergency plans in place, conducts frequent drills to help manage the rare event of an animal emergency and receives regular weapons training,” according to the statement.
“In 20 years at Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo, this type of situation has never arisen with a dangerous animal,” the statement continued.
The fired zookeeper had worked at the zoo for a month. He is a graduate of Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville. Zoo officials have said the zookeeper had excellent references from the college. Without the man’s name, his attendance can not be confirmed, college officials said.
He also worked for a few months at the Lubee Bat Conservancy, where he handled fruit bats. Allyson Walsh, the organization’s director, confirmed the man worked there. He was a temporary employee hired to fill in for an ill worker, she said.
The man did a fine job at Lubee, Walsh said.
On Wednesday evening, Fish and Wildlife Lt. Steve De Lacure and the zoo’s general curator, Lee Ann Rottman, met with the zookeeper at the man’s home, De Lacure said. The man gave the investigator a sworn written statement about the incident.
After the meeting, De Lacure said he will recommend prosecutors charge the zookeeper with unsafe handling of captive wildlife or unsafe housing that leads to escape, a misdemeanor punishable by as much as three months in jail and a $500 fine.
The charge is typically applied to people who keep exotic pets at their homes, such as former NBA player Matt Geiger, whose 2,000-pound bison roamed north Pinellas County for two days in 2002. In Geiger’s case, the charge was dropped.
De Lacure called the Lowry Park tiger’s escape “human error.”
“I don’t think it was intentional,” he said.
The zookeeper told him the door latch didn’t get closed, De Lacure said.
Researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report.
[Last modified August 25, 2006, 21:37:06]
[an error occurred while processing this directive]