Endangered species

Special Report: How safe is Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo?

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"We do have a lot of faith in the administration over there," says Councilwoman Mary Alvarez, who says she hasn't heard any of the former employees' complaints.

She says the nonprofit board makes most of the decisions regarding the zoo. Mayor Pam Iorio, Councilman Shawn Harrison, Parks and Recreation Director Karen Palus and Neighborhoods Coordinator Santiago Corrada sit on that board, along with other community and business leaders.

Board member Corrada says the city received some anonymous allegations after the tiger's death, but he had not heard the specific complaints CL obtained.

"I'd not heard any of these at any of the board meetings I had attended," he says.

Corrada says as a board member he was free to ask questions of the zoo's administration, but he was unsure of how much oversight the city possessed over the zoo. He says the nonprofit's executive committee met more often than the quarterly meeting he attended. Board Chairman Bill Blanchard, Vice-Chair Robert Thomas and Treasurer Brett Couch could not be reached for comment. The former employees say they never contacted any board member regarding their complaints, and no board member ever approached them.

"We didn't even know who the board was," says Peterson.

All six ex-zoo workers have moved on to new jobs: Czarnik works with Big Cat Rescue; Peterson cares for domestic animals at the Humane Society of Tampa Bay; Myers works at a pet store; Justice is now a lieutenant at a security company in Clermont, Fla.; Jeff Kremer is employed at a hospital and Coleen Kremer returned to education.

Despite leaving the zoo, all of them want to continue to fight for the welfare of the animals and staff. Czarnik and Peterson have joined Jeff and Coleen Kremer in a group called Advocates for Excellence of Tampa's Lowry Park Zoo to help prod community discussion on the issues facing the zoo. Their website, www.TampasZooAdvocates.com, went live in late September; it lists animal and staff issues, and calls for the community to work together with the zoo's administration to solve the problems they say still plague the facility.

"We really just want the community to come together to hopefully put pressure on the zoo to move in a positive way," Coleen says. "We're just trying to say, 'Hey, listen, these are some things that we feel if we bring to the public in conversation that we can help affect some positive change.'"

"We all don't hate the zoo," Peterson says. "We just hate the way it's going."

Says Czarnik: "There's great people there, they just feel trapped because they can't be outspoken."

But if something isn't done, these zookeepers say, tragedies will continue to occur.

"I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that these things are going to continue to happen," Jeff Kremer says. "Whether we hear about it or not, I don't know."

Read how Alex got the story: Behind the story.

Editor’s Note: The URL for Jeff and Colleen Kremer’s group was changed recently. The reference to the website in the story has been corrected to reflect the new name. 

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