Metro: 'Mistakes were made' in orangutan's death at Oregon Zoo


by Jeff Thompson, Staff

Posted on May 8, 2014 at 12:53 PM

Updated Thursday, May 8 at 1:00 PM

PORTLAND -- Recent staffing changes at the Oregon Zoo were related to the death of the zoo's Sumatran Orangutan Kutai, Metro announced Thursday.

The zoo said earlier this week that Kim Smith, who had served as zoo director since 2010, had been replaced. Senior veterinarian Dr. Mitch Finnegan also left. When asked if the two were forced to leave, or specifically why they left, Metro said it was against their policy to comment further on personnel matters.

Kutai, a male Sumatran orangutan, died after a minor surgery on January 5, following an illness. He was 20 years old.

Background: Oregon Zoo orangutan Kutai dies after illness

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

Click here for the complete statement

The agency did not provide specific details, but said the investigation found the following:

  • 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.

When news of Smith's departure was announced Monday, Metro said 10-year Oregon Zoo employee Teri Dresler stepped in to fill the role immediately. Existing veterinary staff teamed up to take over Finnegan's role.

Metro's policy is not to comment publicly on personnel matters, but the agency foreshadowed the Thursday announcement with this statement Monday:

In the coming weeks and months, the zoo and Metro leadership will engage stakeholders and the community in conversations about the zoo’s vision and mission.

The zoo has seen high turnover in recent years, with many people resigning, retiring or being let go.

Thursday morning's announcement also came just hours before a group called Free the Oregon Zoo Elephants planned a demonstration at Metro council chambers to protest the living conditions of Packy, the zoo's 52-year-old elephant.

More: Oregon Zoo protesters to pack Metro meeting