TAMPA — Lowry Park Zoo president Lex Salisbury said Friday that he wants a review team from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to inspect records of his private transactions with the zoo.
The zoo is accredited by the AZA, recognized as the industry standard. A story in the Times Friday about Salisbury's purchase of 21 animals from the taxpayer-funded zoo for his private collection included criticism from other AZA-accredited zoo directors who questioned the propriety of the deals.
AZA spokesman Steve Feldman said plans are in motion to assemble a team, but the association has not decided when members will travel to Tampa.
"We welcome that invitation," Feldman said. "That's an indication of how seriously they take our standards."
In the Times story, Salisbury acknowledged that he boarded zoo animals at his 50-acre Pasco County ranch, and at Safari Wild, his yet-to-open exotic animal park in Polk County.
Several of the animals died, including a giraffe he said had parasites, a bongo antelope that got in a fight, and deer that died at Safari Wild from what zoo officials believe were medical problems caused by the stress of the transfer.
The inspectors also are likely to consider a now-voided loan agreement with the zoo that would have entitled Salisbury to the offspring of zoo rhinos, and a boarding agreement in which the zoo pays Safari Wild $600 to care for bison displaced by the new Gator Falls flume ride.
Salisbury's transactions were all approved by the zoo's director of collections, the general curator and the chairman of the zoo's executive committee. The first two are his employees.
Salisbury insists he has never profited from the animal transfers, and did them as a favor to the zoo. Director of collections Larry Killmar said he saw nothing wrong with permitting the transfers, and he trusts Salisbury to take care of the animals.
Bert Castro, president of the Phoenix Zoo, said he never would have allowed such transfers, even if Salisbury's intentions were good.
"It's important that you don't run into gray areas that could possibly be perceived as a conflict of interest," Castro said. "Especially if you're dealing with taxpayer dollars."
The AZA team will be given access to records of all animal transactions to and from Lowry Park Zoo as well as the zoo's protocol for acquiring and disposing of animals.
Salisbury says he hasn't broken any rules.
The city of Tampa and the zoo are also conducting separate audits of all transactions between Salisbury and the zoo.
Salisbury says he isn't worried.