Behind the story

Special Report: Endangered Species

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"Endangered Species" is the culmination of two months of interviews and research by Creative Loafing staff writer Alex Pickett into the safety and security practices at Lowry Park Zoo. Pickett's first interview (with Brian Czarnik) took place on Aug. 1, the day before the escape and subsequent death of Enshalla. In the ensuing weeks, Pickett spoke with five other former employees about their concerns. In addition, two sources who wished to remain anonymous contacted the paper; although their allegations are not included in the final piece, their complaints mirror the problems described by the other employees.

None of the former employees who spoke with the paper called for a closure of the zoo or dismissal of any member of management. They denied any ties to animal rights groups, such as PETA. Four of the employees had been recognized by the zoo with promotions, awards or favorable reviews.

Zoo officials were much less communicative. After an initial conversation with Pickett in which he requested an interview with CEO Lex Salisbury, zoo spokesperson Rachel Nelson asked for a list of allegations made against the zoo. Upon receiving the allegations, which did not name any specific employees, she replied with an e-mail: "The grievances of these employees have been well documented in the media in recent weeks, and we don't have anything to add to that. We consider this a personnel matter, which we won't discuss today or another time." Following Pickett's attempts to contact zoo administrators directly, Nelson sent a letter (described in the story) to the paper's editor that suggested that such efforts bordered on "harassment."

In addition to the Florida Public Records Act requests for a copy of the 2003 Tampa Police Department security assessment report for the zoo, a request which was denied by the TPD for reasons explained in the story, requests were also sent to the zoo for animal care sheets, work order records, animal escapes, necropsy reports and any documents related to the Enshalla investigation. Lowry Park Zoo's attorney Richard A. Harrison denied the requests.

Salaries of Lowry Park Zoo administrators were gathered from the organization's 990 tax forms. Information regarding the city's relationship to Lowry Park Zoo was taken from City Council transcripts, budget figures from the city of Tampa website and interviews with city officials.

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