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Zookeeper suspended in dead animal scandal

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Zookeeper suspended in dead animal scandal
17:11 CEST+02:00
The Parken Zoo animal park in central Sweden has suspended its head zookeeper for misleading statements about the killing of endangered animals at the zoo in a widening scandal that has prompted the Board of Agriculture to intervene.

In ordering the suspension, Parken Zoo officials cited "incompetent statements" made by head zookeeper Helena Olsson during an exposé documentary in which she denied killing the animals, stating that they had simply been moved to other zoos.

The statements were broadcast on an episode of the TV4 documentary Kalla Fakta (The Cold Facts) which aired on Wednesday night (see embedded video with English subtitles below).

“She has done a good job at Parken but she expressed herself incompetently. The statements Helena Olsson made have damaged the Parken Zoo,” said zoo CEO Torbjörn Bergvall to TV4 news.

Among the dead animals, which were stored en masse in a freezer after having been put down, were endangered Bongo antelopes, rare Congo crocodiles, and a family of pumas.

“Kalla Fakta revealed a number of things that are completely unacceptable for us that we didn’t know about,” Tommy Hamberg, chair of Parken Zoo board of direcdtors, told the TT news agency.

“The manner in which the dead animals were handled and the terrible communication about it was completely unacceptable. These were the biggest disappointments.”

However, Hamberg did not believe the news would affect the zoo in the long term.

“I am quite certain that this did a lot of damage. In the longer term, perhaps in six months when our season begins, things will probably be much better, as we will have shown that we've taken the problem seriously and reacted.”

Meanwhile, another zoo in eastern Sweden has had problems of its own this week, after ex-employees explained how animals were mistreated by the staff and owners.

The Öland Djurpark reportedly underfed its animals, forcing them to live in cramped enclosures, while killing certain animals to make room for more.

One staff member told The Local how a Brazilian aardvark was clubbed to death with a baseball bat.

Later it the week, it emerged that the Öland zoo forced temporary guest workers to live in cramped quarters and eat food donated to the zoo by local grocers that was intended for the animals.

"Saying you wanted to live and eat somewhere else was the equivalent of resigning," former worker Marcin Wilk told Svergies Television (SVT).

According to Wilk, guest workers received 12,000 kronor ($1,800) per month after taxes, half of which was then claimed by the zoo, reportedly to cover the costs of food and lodging.

Other former employees who wished to remain anonymous have told similar stories to other media outlets about adverse working conditions at the zoo.

In the wake of the week's scandals, the Swedish Board of Agriculture (Jordbruksverket) has called a meeting for the 20 parks and zoos that are members of The Swedish Association of Zoos and Aquaria (Svenska djurparksföreningen).

The meeting is scheduled for Friday next week, and aims to “take collective responsibility for the protection of species, animals and disease control”.

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TT/The Local/og

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