Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Lowry Park chief steps down temporarily

Lowry chief Lex Salisbury was involved in private trades of zoo animals.

Lowry chief Lex Salisbury was involved in private trades of zoo animals.

TAMPA — Lex Salisbury, the embattled president of Lowry Park Zoo, will take a leave of absence until inquiries into his private dealings with the zoo are complete, Lowry officials said Friday.

"I'm not certain it was a necessary move, but it was in the best interests of Lex and the organization,'' said Bob Merritt, a member of the zoo's executive committee.

Salisbury, the zoo's president and CEO since 1994, agreed to step down temporarily after a lengthy meeting Thursday with committee members.

He did not return a call Friday night seeking comments. Neither did Fassil Gabremariam, chairman of the taxpayer-supported zoo's board of directors.

Craig Pugh, the zoo's deputy director, and Larry Killmar, its director of collections, will assume Salisbury's leadership duties temporarily, zoo officials said.

"He needs a break from the day-to-day operations, and we need to get through the audit," Merritt said.

The leave comes after weeks of news reports about apparent conflicts between Salisbury's duties as zoo director and his for-profit exotic animal park, Safari Wild in Polk County.

The zoo and city officials are now doing separate audits of the zoo's transactions with Safari Wild and Salisbury's 50-acre Pasco County ranch — dealings that included numerous transfers of animals back and forth. It is unclear when the audits will be finished, or what action they might spur.

The city is involved because it helps subsidize the zoo and because it holds the lease on the zoo's property, which gives it ownership of all of its animals and their offspring.

That's why city officials have found revelations about the zoo's dealings with Salisbury's private ventures so troubling.

Zoo officials said this week that Salisbury has engaged in transactions involving 201 animals of 39 different species during his two decades at the zoo. The deals include loans, trades, sales and outright gifts.

Killmar, Lowry's director of collections, said 153 of the exchanges benefited the zoo. Salisbury housed animals stressed by zoo construction or displaced by space constraints, he said. His animals were used to breed and increase the zoo's collection.

Most of the breeding loan agreements entitled Salisbury to split any offspring with the zoo, Killmar said.

Not all of the transactions ended well.

In 2007, the zoo loaned Salisbury a giraffe and four white-tailed deer, all of which died. He also received three dwarf buffalo, an antelope and five bison.

In that same stretch of time — from Oct. 1, 2006, to Sept. 30, 2007 — the zoo traded pygmy hippos with Safari Wild and received animals on loan from Salisbury, including an Arabian camel, a saddle-billed stork and a sarus crane.

Salisbury has said he never profited in any way from his dealings with the zoo. But City Council member Thomas Scott has called for his resignation, and council member Mary Mulhern said he needs to choose between his $270,000-a-year post at the zoo and his private ventures.

For now, Salisbury will step back and let the independent reviewers do their job.

"When the auditors have satisfied their investigation and made their judgments, we'll figure out where to go from there," Merritt said. "There is no timetable."

Times staff writer Alexandra Zayas and Times researchers John Martin and Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Robbyn Mitchell can be reached at (813) 226-3373 or

Lowry Park chief steps down temporarily 10/03/08 [Last modified: Saturday, October 4, 2008 1:27pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Trump vows more sanctions on North Korea


    President Donald Trump vowed Thursday to impose more sanctions on North Korea as he prepared to meet with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea to seek a common strategy in confronting the isolated nuclear-armed state.

    U.S. President Donald Trump addresses the 72nd session of the United Nations General Assembly, at U.N. headquarters on Sept. 19, 2017. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017 in New York described as "the sound of a dog barking" Trump's threat to destroy his country. [Associated Press]
  2. Tampa chamber of commerce votes against tax increase on business property


    TAMPA — The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce on Thursday voted against supporting a city of Tampa plan to raise taxes on commercial properties in the city for 2018. The property tax, included in the city's proposed $974 million budget, would boost taxes from $5.73 to $6.33 for every $1,000 in property value.

    The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce voted against supporting a city tax hike on commercial property. Pictured is Bob Rohrlack, CEO of the chamber. | [Times file photo]
  3. How should St. Pete make up for dumping all that sewage? How about a street sweeper?


    Every crisis has a silver lining.

    In the case of St. Petersburg’s sewage crisis, which spawned state and federal investigations and delivered a state consent decree ordering the city to fix a dilapidated sewer system, the upside is figuring out how to satisfy the $810,000 civil penalty levied by the Florida …

    City Council chairwoman Darden Rice said it was important to chose carefully because residents will be paying attention.
  4. A boy and a girl stare at the camera from their house after Hurrciane Maria hit the eastern region of the island, in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, September 20, 2017. The strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in more than 80 years destroyed hundreds of homes, knocked out power across the entire island and turned some streets into raging rivers in an onslaught that could plunge the U.S. territory deeper into financial crisis. [Associated Prss]
  5. Tampa poll rates streets, flooding, police-community relations and transportation as top public priorities


    A city of Tampa online survey of the public's priorities for the next 18 months rated improving streets and easing flooding as the top priority of nearly 89 percent of respondents.

    Survey results