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Metro: Orangutan death led to Oregon Zoo dismissals

by: OREGON ZOO - Kutai, the 20-year-old Sumatran orangutan who died in January at the Oregon Zoo.Metro has broken its silence on the recent dismissals of Oregon Zoo Director Kim Smith and Chief Veterinarian Mitch Finnegan.

In a statement released Thursday morning, the elected regional government said the dismissals were the result of an investigation onto the death of Kutai, a Sumatran male orangutan.

The 20-year-old Kutai died on Jan. 5. At the time, zoo officials said Kutai had been ill for about a month but had been recovering. He died following what officials described as minor surgery after his health suddenly declined.

“It’s a devastating loss for everyone here. Our animal-care staff did all we could for Kutai, but we just couldn’t help him through this,” Finnegan said at the time.

Kutai was second Sumatran orangutan to die at the zoo following an illness and surgery in four years. Batik, a 22-year-old female orangutan, died in August 2010. At the time, zoo officials said she had been suffering from a gall bladder infection and abnormal kidney.

According to the statement, the investigation into Kutai's death revealed procedural and communication lapses related to the death, including possible inaccuracies in reports about it.

Metro owns and operates the zoo, which is located in the West Hills of Portland. Thursday's full statement reads as follows:

In operating the Oregon Zoo, Metro’s first commitment is to the animals. Every day our goal is to uphold high standards for accountability and integrity when it comes to animal care. Information came to our attention that raised questions about whether these standards were met in relation to the death of the zoo’s Sumatran orangutan Kutai.

We conducted a careful investigation of the circumstances surrounding Kutai’s death and concluded mistakes were made and important information was not fully disclosed.

Key findings from Metro’s investigation include:

• Standard operating procedures and best practices were not followed.

• Lapses in procedures and protocols were tolerated.

• There was a lack of trust regarding the accuracy of reports and whether important facts regarding animal care were omitted.

Metro will work with veterinary and animal care staff to implement a thorough and thoughtful review of animal care procedures and protocols. While the exact scope and timing are under development, Metro is committed to collaborating with experts in animal care, from both inside and outside of Metro, to ensure we continue to make the most of the Oregon Zoo’s new veterinary medical center and that our animal care reflects best practices.

Because the investigation involves personnel actions Metro will not be releasing more specific details at this time.