Zookeepers had safety concerns before gorilla died

AP News
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Posted: Nov 21, 2014 1:22 PM

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A baby gorilla may not have been crushed to death under an electric door if zoo leaders had responded to zookeepers' concerns about the enclosure's safety, five zookeepers told a newspaper.

The 30-year-old gorilla enclosure had a flawed layout, problems with the doors and was understaffed, the zookeepers told the San Francisco Chronicle in a story published Thursday (http://bit.ly/1FakHwT).

"It was a freak accident," said Corey Hallman, one of the animal keepers. "But with a workplace that takes safety and keeper input more seriously, it could have been prevented."

The 16-month-old gorilla named Kabibe (kuh-BEE'-bay) died Nov. 7 when she unexpectedly darted under the door as it closed.

Zoo Executive Director Tanya Peterson has said the worker operating the hydraulic door failed to keep her hand on an emergency stop button as required.

Zoo officials declined to comment on the keepers' complaints. They are investigating Kabibe's death.

Peterson said in a guest editorial in The Chronicle that the U.S. Department of Agriculture routinely inspects the enclosure, and in January, found no "noncompliant" issues with the exhibit.

"Nothing in recent inspection reports gave me reason to believe there was anything wrong with the exhibit," Peterson wrote.

But an outside investigator found the enclosure is outdated and unsafe. The doors have a history of mechanical failures, including jamming and unexpectedly collapsing, according to zoo records.

An adult gorilla had her hand caught under a door in July 2012, according to zoo records cited by the Chronicle.

The zookeepers say the control panel to operate the doors in the gorilla exhibit also does not have a clear view of all the doors.

"It's a very stressful situation," Dayna Sherwood, one of the zookeepers, said. "You can't always see what everyone's doing."

In a Nov. 6, 2013, email to managers, a zookeeper proposed hiring another person to help move gorillas and chimpanzees into their night quarters.

Amy Corso, one of the zookeepers interviewed by The Chronicle, said the zoo issued a requirement that a second worker be on hand to help while gorillas are moved following Kabibe's death.

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Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com