Friday, Oct. 4, 2013 | 3:19 p.m.
The Phoenix Zoo announced Friday that it has taken in some animals from the embattled Southern Nevada Zoological Botanical Park, but there are still animals that need homes, according to a local animal rights advocate.
Inspectors from the U.S. Department of Agriculture visited the zoo on Rancho Drive near Vegas Drive on Sept. 24 in response to a complaint from Linda Faso, a longtime animal rights proponent in Las Vegas.
Faso said she emailed the agency Sept. 20, when she found out three zoo caretakers had resigned from their jobs in a two-week period. She said the caretakers plan to share their stories with the public but were waiting for all of the animals to be relocated.
“I let (the USDA) know all of the caretakers had quit and I was concerned about who would feed and care for the animals,” Faso said. “It was an emergency situation.”
USDA spokeswoman Tanya Espinosa confirmed that investigators from the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection service paid a visit to the facility after receiving a complaint.
Southern Nevada Zoological Botanical Park owner Pat Dingle has not returned several messages asking for comment.
The 3-acre facility has struggled with financial problems and has been the target of numerous complaints since it opened in 1981. The zoo was never accredited by a national organization.
With no staff to care for the animals, including a cougar, lion, alligators, apes, wallabies, exotic birds and other creatures, Faso said Dingle agreed to close the zoo and relocate the animals.
The Phoenix Zoo has taken in two Patagonian cavies, two red-rumped agoutis and two Chinese alligators. It is just one of multiple facilities and private individuals that have taken in animals from the park, also known as the Las Vegas Zoo.
“We were contacted by the USDA and informed that this zoo had closed and asked if we might be able to help find homes for some of the animals,” Rich Sartor, the Phoenix Zoo’s director of living collections, said in a release. "We helped spread the word among other zoological facilities of the need for assistance and made plans to transport those animals we could take ourselves."
Keith Evans, who managed the MGM Grand’s former lion exhibit, took on the lioness, according to Faso, and a cougar went to a private individual in Pahrump. Additionally, a group of Barbary apes and a chimpanzee have been moved to facilities spread across the country. Faso said wallabies, a peacock, an emu and guinea fowl are still awaiting placement.
Faso has been keeping an eye on the Las Vegas Zoo for at least two decades, she said, and has been the source for many of the complaints.
She claims Dingle never provided adequate enclosures with sufficient shade and stimulation for the animals housed at the zoo. Dingle rejected the caretakers’ requests to improve the environment in the enclosures, Faso said.
“There was not enough shade for the animals or toys for mental stimulation. You can’t just leave them in a cage all day with nothing to do. The alligator’s water was filthy and almost never changed. … The place was in disrepair. It’s just a list of things that (Dingle) never brought up to full compliance. He tried to fly under the radar and do it the cheapest way he could,” Faso said.
A USDA inspection on June 27 found a handful of violations, most regarding protecting animals from extreme heat. That week, temperatures in the valley topped 110 degrees.
The inspection found that little shade was provided for a group of apes, and a pool meant for cooling “was shallow, with several inches of water, and was located directly in the sun.”
The report went on to cite problems with the amount of shade provided to wallabies, a fossa and several agoutis. The report says a cougar was seen panting and pacing in its enclosure, and several of the animal pens had ambient temperatures well over 100 degrees. Zoo staff addressed the problems and inspectors found the facility in compliance on June 30.
In December 2012, a USDA inspection found the food preparation area and bins for food storage in disrepair. And in June 2012, the zoo was cited for not keeping adequate training and records logs for its employees.
The zoo is operated by the nonprofit Nevada Zoological Foundation, which in 2010, according to tax filings, had revenues of $327,783 and expenditures of $375,232.