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Austin Zoo leader steps down amid animal mistreatment probe

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The board president of the embattled Austin Zoo has stepped down following a newspaper’s investigation that detailed leaders’ unwillingness to euthanize suffering animals and retaliation against zookeepers who raised concerns.

The zoo announced Monday that Patti Clark will no longer be a voting board member, but she’ll remain the nonprofit’s executive director, the Austin American-Statesman reported. The zoo also appointed four new members to its board.

Clark and other zoo officials have faced criticism since the newspaper published its investigation into allegations of mismanagement and animal mistreatment in January.

The story came after six zookeepers sent a 54-page letter to the zoo’s board last summer, specifically requesting that the same person not be allowed to serve as both zoo director and board president. The letter also asked the zoo to develop an end-of-life protocol.

The newspaper’s investigation, which was based on accounts from current and former Austin Zoo staffers and zookeepers, cited a worker who detailed how a blind, aging monkey was kept alive for years despite many insisting that the animal be euthanized.

Zookeepers claimed that Clark retaliated against those suspected of being involved in the letter.

Three zookeepers were fired last month. Zoo officials declined to say whether the firings were a direct result of the investigation, saying they were based on violations of professional conduct.

Former zookeepers and board members said the leadership change is a step in the right direction. But many said that the board’s new members are Clark’s friends and zoo vendors.

Casi Cortez, a former zookeeper, said she appreciates that some changes are being made but doesn’t think reform “would have happened without community support putting pressure on the zoo.”

“We’re still pushing for the original requests in the petition: making sure we have an independent board, following through with a euthanasia policy,” Cortez said.

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Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com

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