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Lowry Park Zoo's animals prove tough to track

TAMPA — Many of the questions swirling around Lowry Park Zoo president Lex Salisbury are focused on the zoo's dealings with his yet-to-open private animal attraction, Safari Wild.

But records obtained by the Times show that years before Safari Wild existed, zoo animals were being transferred to Salisbury's B A Ranch, his 50-acre residence in Pasco County.

Salisbury has acknowledged that zoo animals stressed by construction have stayed temporarily at his ranch. But transfer records of giraffes, antelope and warthogs show that some never returned to the zoo.

One antelope and one giraffe died. One warthog was quickly transferred to another zoo. Another has vanished from records.

Zoo officials declined to comment.

The records showing what happened to the animals are included in what are called "Studbooks.'' They detail where zoo animals are born, where they've been and where they are now. They don't specify whether transfers are loans or sales.

Studbook keepers recognized by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums periodically update records for 465 species. The Times has obtained information from three of those books, which cover just a tiny fraction of Lowry's hundreds of subspecies.

A current studbook on giraffes, a 2006 report on bongo antelope and a 2008 report on warthogs, detail these transactions between the zoo and Salisbury's private entities:

• A male giraffe born at the Montgomery Zoo in 2000 was transferred to Lowry Park Zoo in April 2007. Two days later, it was transferred to Salisbury's private ranch. Three months later, it died.

• A 2-year-old male bongo antelope named Beene was transferred from the San Diego Zoo to the Lowry Park Zoo in April 2004, then to Salisbury's private ranch that November. It died two months later.

• A 2-year-old female bongo named Maggie was transferred from the Jacksonville Zoo to Lowry Park Zoo in May 2004, then to Salisbury's private ranch that November.

• A male warthog named Arnold Schwarzenegger, born at the San Diego Zoo in 2003, was transferred to the Lowry Park Zoo in May 2004 and then to Salisbury's property six months later.A month after it arrived at Salisbury's property, the warthog was transferred to Wildlife World Zoo in Arizona, where it was living as of May this year.

• A male warthog born at Lowry Park Zoo in April 2006 was transferred to Salisbury that September. It is listed as "lost to follow-up," which means no additional records have been passed to studbook keepers, and the rest of the animal's life has gone undocumented.

Also "lost to follow-up" is a female warthog named Zuka, born at the San Diego Zoo's Wild Animal Preserve and transferred directly to Salisbury a year and a half later.

"When I see 'lost to follow-up,' it always raises a red flag to me," said Richard Farinato, a captive wildlife specialist with the Humane Society who has served as assistant director of two zoos.

Last week, Lowry officials agreed to Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio's demand that they acknowledge their animals belong to the city. Both the zoo's executive board and the city of Tampa are auditing transactions between the zoo and Salisbury.

Zoo spokeswoman Rachel Nelson said it would be inappropriate for the zoo to comment until the audit was complete.

Iorio also does not want to comment on the zoo until the audit is finished, but Santiago Corrada, her representative on the zoo board, restated the city's general position on transactions:

"The city doesn't believe there should be any co-mingling of assets between Lowry Park Zoo and any private holdings of its CEO, just to avoid the conflict of interest," he said.

Some connections already documented include 10 acres of Safari Wild land where the zoo built structures to hold animals and allowed its horses to graze; a loan agreement, now dissolved, that would have granted Salisbury some offspring of zoo rhinos; and $600 paid to Safari Wild each month to temporarily care for five zoo bison displaced by a water flume ride.

Salisbury has insisted he never profited from any private transactions with the zoo.

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at azayas@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3354.

Lowry Park Zoo's animals prove tough to track 09/23/08 [Last modified: Sunday, September 28, 2008 1:45pm]

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