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ZOOKEEPER RESIGNS AFTER FAILING TO REPORT THREAT TO ELEPHANT.

Byline: DANA BARTHOLOMEW Staff Writer

A night zookeeper at the Los Angeles Zoo who failed to report that Gita the elephant was resting in a life-threatening position has been allowed to resign, officials said Thursday.

Officials say the woman had learned from a security guard that the 48- year-old elephant was sitting on its haunches -- an indicator of elephant distress -- and failed to report it. Eight hours later -- at dawn on June 10 -- the animal was found in the same position. Gita died several hours later.

The unnamed zookeeper has since resigned -- some say under pressure.

``It hurts tremendously that procedures weren't followed,'' said City Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose district encompasses the zoo. ``When a public employee misses such an important call, their services to the city should be re-evaluated.''

Zoo General Manager John Lewis and other city officials declined to discuss the former zookeeper on grounds of personnel confidentiality.

The 8,000-pound elephant, at the zoo since 1959, had arthritis and a history of chronic foot ailments.

Zoo officials first reported Gita had been found by zookeepers at 5 a.m. sitting on her haunches. She died at 9:40 a.m. after toxins from her muscles led to vascular distress. A full necropsy report is expected in two weeks.

But late last week, zoo officials acknowledged that a zoo employee failed to follow procedures in reporting her condition at 8:45 p.m. June 9. A city official said the woman was a night watch zookeeper who has since resigned.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on Thursday called for a full investigation, calling the gap in reporting time ``unacceptable.''

``I remain committed to ensuring a full, complete and transparent investigation of all the facts and circumstances surrounding Gita's death,'' Villaraigosa said in a statement.

Assemblyman Lloyd Levine, D-Van Nuys, on Thursday sought to create a Select Committee on Animal Welfare, with full subpoena powers to request zoo documents on Gita's care.

``His goal is to make sure that everything was done for Gita, that all protective measures were taken,'' said Alex Traverso, spokesman for Levine.

Lewis said he notified the gap in reporting Gita's condition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well as the state lab performing the necropsy.

He added that he reported new protocols for reporting nighttime animal illnesses because employees had been following unwritten guidelines.

``We're on the same page (with the mayor),'' Lewis said. ``We agree with him that this was unacceptable and have launched an investigation to find out exactly what happened.''

Animal welfare activists blasted zoo officials for discrepancies in reporting Gita's death and continued their call to close the elephant exhibit.

``It's a cover-up, the whole thing's a cover-up,'' said Chris DeRose, founder of Last Chance for Animals, which offered Thursday to buy monitoring equipment for the zoo's two remaining elephants.

``I'm livid.''

dana.bartholomew(at)dailynews.com

(818) 713-3730
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 7, 2006
Words:479
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