What to do about the Las Vegas Zoo?

What to do about the Las Vegas Zoo?

By Darcy Spears. CREATED Jul 27, 2011

Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) - We've had a tremendous response to our Contact 13 investigation into the Las Vegas Zoo.

As Chief Investigator Darcy Spears first exposed, conditions there are of great concern to animal experts and Action News viewers alike.

We thank you for your feedback and wish we could share all your comments. Here's what many of you are saying.

"You think that the animals need to be rescued and that this place needs to be closed?" Spears asked recent zoo visitor Lindsay Roach.

"Yes.  Yes.  Or the City of Las Vegas should pitch in money and buy more land and create a bigger zoo," Lindsay said, summing up what many of you are saying.  "It just hurts me to see these animals live in something like this."

More than 150 species of plants and animals live on just three acres at the Las Vegas Zoo.

Experts say the cages are too small and barren. There's not enough shade. Animals are bored, neglected and stressed. And with many animals alone, they say social groupings are nothing short of cruel.

"These are very basic provisions that need to be given to wild animals if they're going to be held captive in order to provide for their physical and psychological and behavioral needs and the Las Vegas Zoo is not doing that," says Lisa Wathne, regulatory specialist for the Humane Society of the United States.

After our investigation aired Monday night, more than a hundred of you posted comments on our Facebook page and dozens more sent us email.

Heather writes, "Las Vegas needs things for kids to do, but the zoo we have is not the zoo we need. They need to close it down and start over."

Ken adds, "I would rather we shut it down than keep a zoo just for the sake of being able to say we have a zoo. We don't have the money... so why bother?"

"Those concerns are from people who phone it in," says Zoo Director Pat Dingle.

"Why do you think you can't get to the place where other city zoos are?" Spears asked him.

"Other cities are not Las Vegas.  It's very simple," Dingle said.  "Why don't we have a stadium?  Why don't we have this?  Why don't we have that?"

Diana writes, "It is very curious to me that our big city of Las Vegas does not support our zoo... I would love for the powers that be to step up and have a zoo comparable to the one in San Diego."

Pat Dingle says he's all ears.

"I haven't heard any suggestions on how to help.  Only criticism."

Penny writes, "The people who keep this zoo going do love those animals... What is horrible is that so many complain but none of those people try to help."

Elizabeth echoes that, asking: "Why are we so involved in wanting to destroy things, rather than figure out ways to make it better?  The zoo is pitiful, but I know when I go, my kids and I pick up trash, donate what we can.  Las Vegas is our home and everything in it is our responsibility."

"This zoo is a resource and I'd like to see the public jump on board and help us make it even better and make it the zoo they want," says Jeannie Akins, the zoo's animal care manager.

The zoo's been around for 30 years and in all that time, it's never met the standards required for industry accreditation.

"We've never even looked into it.  It doesn't make any difference to us," Dingle says.

On that, Dori writes, "There is a reason there are a set of standards for zoos... If those people really, really care about those animals, then they would want them to have better. If we can't fund it, then we shouldn't have it at the animals' expense. PERIOD."

Many of you have written asking what can be done to shut the zoo down. 

The zoo is a private, non-profit business regulated by the USDA. 

They meet the government's minimum standards and as long as they do, they can stay open. 

The city could take action against their business license, but that's not likely when they've got the USDA's stamp of approval.

When Oscar Goodman was mayor, he expressed strong feelings that as a world-class city, Las Vegas should have a world-class zoo.

But the city has never provided funding.

We've sent our story to Mayor Carolyn Goodman and hope to have her take on it in another follow-up report.

Darcy Spears

Darcy Spears

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Darcy Spears is currently the Chief Investigative Reporter for Action News.