ZOO LAUDED FOR SOLVING TOP PROBLEMS : MORE IMPROVEMENTS NEEDED, EXPERTS SAY AFTER RETURN VISIT.
Fourteen months after finding the Los Angeles Zoo plagued by neglect and poor management, a panel of three outside experts said Tuesday that the facility has made great strides but more remains to be done.
Capping a three-day return visit and inspection that began Sunday, the directors of big-city zoos in Atlanta, Cincinnati and Seattle said the most serious deficiencies they cited in February 1995 - including dangerously dilapidated holding facilities for animals - have been corrected.
They said they also found the zoo cleaner, more professionally managed and operating with less tension and division among the staff.
The chief remaining issues, they said, are whether the city will stick by its renewed financial commitment to the zoo and whether the facility can develop more of its badly needed fund-raising sources in the private sector.
``It's looking real good compared to where we were before,'' said David Towne, director of Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo. ``There's still a long way to go, but the whole tenor of the place has changed.''
Towne and his two colleagues, Zoo Atlanta director Terry Maple and Cincinnati Zoo chief Ed Maruska, stressed that it would take three to five years to completely turn the zoo around.
``After many years of neglect, you're not going to rebuild it overnight,'' Maple said. ``Our main concern is whether the effort is going to be sustained with vigor and speed.''
Maruska said the zoo now appears to be operating at a level it should have been when the team first visited the troubled facility in December 1994.
``We're all very gratified with the amount of progress that has been made in the past year and a half,'' he said.
Maruska said the zoo has completed more than 400 repair and maintenance projects since February 1995. Hundreds more remain to be carried out, but the most urgent problems have been addressed, he said.
Among the improvements so far, he said, were new or refurbished service areas for the animals, rebuilt holding barns, new landscaping, brush removal to control rodent infestations and the installation of a new fence around the perimeter of the zoo to keep out coyotes and other pests.
The three experts, who are expected to report on their findings in writing in the next few weeks, noted that the Los Angeles City Council had approved their recommendation to form a new zoo department in the city government.
And they said city officials appeared to be working more cooperatively with the zoo's main fund-raising arm and private support organization, the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Association.
Their visit comes a week after GLAZA's president, Susan Rice, announced she was resigning in a move seen by some zoo critics as removing a major obstacle to reform efforts.