PORTLAND (AP) — The firings of the Oregon Zoo’s director and top veterinarian are related to the January death of a 20-year-old orangutan, regional government leaders said Thursday.
A statement from Metro, the regional government that runs the zoo, said Metro leaders “concluded mistakes were made and important information was not fully disclosed,” The Oregonian reported.
Zoo director Kimberly Smith and veterinarian Mitch Finnegan were fired Monday. Finnegan said his dismissal came without much explanation beyond a lack of confidence in his ability to lead his department.
He said Thursday in an Oregonian interview that the death of Kutai the orangutan was a bigger loss for him than his job.
“We were all gutted,” he said. “We were like walking zombies after that. It was not for lack of caring or trying that this guy ended up dying.”
The orangutan showed a decrease in appetite and activity in December. Zookeepers suspected an infection. He died after two surgeries.
Smith was hired to run the zoo in 2010, after Metro auditors recommended stronger oversight over zoo construction projects. Finnegan worked at the Oregon Zoo for more than 20 years.
Metro officials said they could not talk directly about the firings because they were personnel matters.
In their statement, they said Smith and Finnegan were dismissed after an investigation into Kutai’s death found that standard operating procedures and best practices were not followed, procedural lapses were tolerated, and there was a lack of trust regarding the accuracy of reports “and whether important facts regarding animal care were omitted.”
No additional explanation was offered.
Kutai was considered highly intelligent, the zoo said in its announcement of his death.
Zoo officials say he once flattened cardboard boxes, connected them, slid them under his cage’s mesh wall and reached a tool rack. Using the cardboard as a tool, he grabbed a broom and pulled it into his cage.
He reportedly was one motivating force behind the zoo’s upgrade of its orangutan exhibit in 2010 at a cost of about $3.45 million.