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Rage from the Cage

Stumpy, in unhappier times.

Color Barrier

Civil rights: In your most recent issue, the subject of black-on-white racism by the Improved Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks of the World lodge was clearly stated ("Exalted Ruler," John Dougherty, March 28).

I have been at the lodge and have witnessed this activity and feel that someone should point out that it's not okay to discriminate against anyone based on race.

I have been a civil rights activist since the 1960s and I still support racial equality through the Southern Poverty Law Center and Tolerance.org. I don't believe anyone should stand silent.

White people have no patent on bigotry, and it should be pointed out and rooted out whenever it pokes up its ugly head, whether in the African-American, Mexican-American or Euro-American communities.

I'm tired of people using the difference in a minuscule number of DNA strands to scapegoat other people.

Can't we all just get along?

James Bailey
Tempe

Not-so-exalted ruler: Groan. I am a native of south Phoenix. I went to St. Catherine's, swam at Roosevelt pool, picked fruit and worked the fields down there.

Early on (third grade?) I realized that this side of town existed for one reason and one reason alone: to provide the city of Phoenix with cheap labor and a dumping ground for toxic waste.

The powers that be have worked hard to keep the south side of the river disenfranchised and disorganized. They've thrown in a token project here and there but have basically worked hard to keep the area poor and ignorant (why do quaint, rural-like unpaved streets only show up in the poor parts of any town?).

So now we have Councilman Mike Johnson. Turns out that this guy is a crooked grand high muck-a-muck in the Elks Lodge. The guys in the Camelback area and in "Parasite Valley" have gotta be laughing their asses off. And Mayor Skip Rimsza is dragging Johnson around by the nose, using him as a shield. And Johnson is letting him get away with it.

If people on the south side ever decided to get organized, something might change.

I realized early on that the roads that keep bringing all these new people into town lead out of town, too. So guess what I did.

Keep up the good fight.

Jim Bailey
Cripple Creek, Colorado

Riding Heard

Won't you be my neighbor?: The noisiest neighbors in town may be the Heard Museum ("Heard Mentality," John W. Allman, March 14)? This subject is a joke, right? Ink, time, energy and anything else dealing with this subject is a waste.

Reality check, please. Metallica, Anthrax and Marilyn Manson haven't been playing the parking lot of the Heard. Beautiful flutes, the occasional patter of drums and symphony music is as wild as it gets.

The last time I checked, this wasn't a town; it's one of the largest cities in the United States. The museum has been there since 1929. Have any of the neighbors been there that long?

I eke out a living working for a catering company. I wish I had the problems of those whiners with too much time and money to waste on fancy lawyers.

I've been working with my particular catering company since November and I've only worked three to five events at the Heard Museum a month. Maybe half of those events are held outside, and the latest we finish is 11:30 p.m. Wildfire is a major event, but that's only once a year. Our crew is highly professional and aware of the neighbors. We use earpiece walkie-talkies to communicate. At the end of the night, we want out of there, so we load up quickly and quietly.

By chance last week a guest arrived early for an event, and to kill time he rolled down his windows and jammed to some tunes in his car. Guess what? The museum security guard made the person stop.

The only legitimate argument is the one about traffic in the neighborhood, but that's been mitigated as well, while parking for an event like Wildfire is handled by a valet service.

This is only the opinion of a working stiff, but given the chance, I would be neighbors with the Heard Museum any day.

Valerie Sherman
Phoenix

Caring for Critters

Zoolander: As executive director of the Phoenix Zoo, I feel compelled to respond to your most recent article ("Creature Discomfort", John W. Allman, March 28). This article was replete with inaccurate information, and I would ask that you take responsibility for correcting those errors by printing this letter in its entirety.

 

Before I address the specifics of the article, however, I would like to highlight what we are all about in this wonderful organization that I have the privilege to lead. The Phoenix Zoo exists to inspire people to care for nature. Each year approximately 1.5 million visitors find inspiration, beauty and recreation among our plants, animals and programs. We serve more than 200,000 children annually through our workshops, school and community outreach programs. We emphasize the value of wildlife and are committed to excellence in care of our animal collection. We work daily with local, national and international organizations to improve the husbandry of animals in our care and work extremely hard to conserve the habitats on which their species depend. We are also an accredited member of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association and have been for many years. Last month, we were granted accreditation again for the next five years. The accreditation process includes a thorough review, site inspection, and interview process.

As it relates to the most recent article, I would like to respond on a number of specific points as being inaccurate or misleading:

• An iguana named Stumpy from the Arizona Trail did receive serious burns from a heating pad in its exhibit. It was immediately treated and had some skin under its throat removed. No amputations of limbs or the tail were performed. Several years ago, the animal had part of its tail amputated after it was injured during breeding activity. There is no correlation between that procedure and the burns it was treated for recently. The animal is debilitated with arthritis that contributed to it being less likely to move when it needed to do so.

• The anaconda that was part of the Big! Exhibit arrived to us in a state of ill health. The animal was brought to ACC as soon as it showed signs of poor health, and veterinarians attempted to treat it for pneumonia. The animal was pregnant and its embryos were dead. Unfortunately, despite aggressive veterinary efforts, the animal did not survive. It was not possible to ascertain the exact cause of death. There was no dispute over the animal's treatment or care. We did not remove the anaconda from the wild. We received the animal from an outside vendor. Had the animal not come to the zoo from South America, it almost certainly would have been sold and killed for its skin.

• Tinkerbell the porcupine was never denied food as "punishment."

• Dr. Curtis Eng at no time stated that Tinkerbell was "despondent" due to being put on a diet.

• While it's understandable that the public would be concerned about the articles as they have been written by New Times, the zoo was not "flooded" with phone calls. Approximately 10 calls and e-mails from New Times' limited readership made inquiries. All calls and e-mails received a response.

• At no time did the zoo express that it was not responsible for Tinkerbell's death. We have gone to great lengths with case reviews, employee meetings and internal memos to communicate the opposite, as well as our intent to provide exemplary care for our animals.

• We have never stated that anyone should not contact "law enforcement agencies." It is not at all uncommon for any business organization to have guidelines for speaking to media. Our media policy has been in place for many years, and has not been modified because of recent articles in New Times.

• The zoo did not, at any time, "decline to comment."

• Any employee disciplinary situation is a private matter under human-resources law. Any disciplinary action of a zoo staff member would hardly be appropriate to share with others, much less New Times.

I do hope New Times will be more conscientious in the future as it relates to facts and accuracy.

Jeff Williamson
Executive Director
Phoenix Zoo

John W. Allman responds: I find it interesting that Jeff Williamson chose to respond to allegations about poor treatment of zoo animals only after the publication of the latest Phoenix Zoo story.

In recent months, Williamson, through his spokeswoman Aimee Barwegen, has declined three requests to discuss zoo issues, such as the death of Tinkerbell the porcupine and the harm to Stumpy the iguana.

As for specific concerns regarding alleged inaccuracies in the story "Creature Discomfort":

• Stumpy sustained far more severe injuries than suggested by Williamson. A portion of the reptile's tail was removed, and its hind legs were damaged, as shown in the photo accompanying this letter.

• Internal zoo records, provided to New Times and available to the zoo's director, document numerous instances when Tinkerbell was specifically denied food as punishment for not performing.

 

• A Maricopa County Sheriff's Office report explicitly states that chief veterinarian Dr. Curtis Eng, in trying to explain Tinkerbell's death, told investigators the porcupine "apparently became despondent" and stopped eating, "basically starving itself to death."

• The Phoenix Zoo has twice revised its internal policy regarding staff contact with the media and outside agencies since New Times first began asking questions about animal deaths in August 2001.

• The zoo has repeatedly refused interview requests, saying the institution does not discuss anonymous allegations of misconduct.

Outraged at the zoo: I was brought to tears after reading John W. Allman's article on the death of Tinkerbell the porcupine at the Phoenix Zoo ("Quilled," March 14).

It makes me sick that all the red flags were ignored. Being punished for not performing to the satisfaction of her handler by depriving Tinkerbell of food was sheer cruelty.

If this is what happens behind the gates, then I don't care for having zoos at the expense of the animals. It would be more humane to put them to sleep.

The zoo's veterinarian stated that Tinkerbell was "basically starving itself to death" when the truth was that she was too weak to eat.

I am saddened that the animals may not be getting the treatment they deserve.

It also concerns me that the Phoenix Zoo forces employees to sign an agreement to not leak private zoo information. If there's nothing to hide, what's the reason behind this?

I believe the zoo's only interest is in profit. This disgusts me. I am not against rehabilitating animals that can no longer survive on their own in the wild. I am also not against zoo educational programs. But at what cost? Is it really necessary to train animals to do cute stunts in order to educate us? Animals should perform because they want to, because they have a close bond with us and want to please us, not out of fear or lack of food.

Which zoos can we trust now?

All I can do in Tinkerbell's memory is to write this letter and hope that it causes other people to ask hard questions. Until matters are resolved locally, I cannot bring myself to visit the Phoenix Zoo. I love animals, but I will not participate in supporting the offensive treatment of the animals.

Sandi Delarosa
Mesa

Animal activist: I am one of those in the newly organized group that intends to actually do something to remedy the intolerable situation at the Phoenix Zoo where so many of the animals in its "care" are being and have been mistreated, some to the point of death. The fact that zoo officials are attempting to cover up the truth and protect themselves and their employees from the consequences of irresponsibility just means that they will eventually pay a higher price than they would if they were forthright.

We had several concerned zoo employees approach us for information at our protest at the zoo on March 30. Most did not know about these problems at their own place of employment and wanted to know what they could do to help end the abuse and remedy the situation in favor of the animals.

Conversely, many people exiting the zoo went past us refusing to hear about the situation; some even said they didn't care, notwithstanding the documentation we offered them to read. It appears many people aren't concerned about the health of the animals -- they're only concerned about being able to see them.

We are planning future ongoing action -- legal as well as non-legal (but not illegal). These persons hiding the truth here obviously have something to hide. But, with your exposés and our resources, all of that will come out and heads will roll. We are a well-informed group of animal welfare activists who know how to accomplish our goals.

As with most business, the bottom line here is money; and one of the best things your readers can do is call or write the zoo's board of directors and threaten them with loss of funding: no more contributions until this nonsense is settled to the satisfaction of the animals and the people who genuinely care about them.

Also, they can phone, e-mail or mail comments to the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, which accredits the zoo every five years. The association may not even be aware of the whole scenario going on here, nor the resulting negative publicity. The association is at 8403 Colesville Road, Suite 710, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3314. Phone: 301-562-0777.

Keith Landon
Scottsdale


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