Report: Employees, animals in danger at Las Vegas Zoo

Molly Waldron

Report: Employees, animals in danger at Las Vegas Zoo

CREATED Feb. 29, 2012

 Las Vegas, NV (KTNV) -- The Las Vegas Zoo is in trouble again and it's not just about the animals.

Contact 13 has been exposing concerns about animal welfare at the zoo for more than two and a half years. Now, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is involved for the first time since the zoo opened more than 30 years ago.

Back in August, OSHA inspected the zoo for the first time after employees wrote formal complaints. That resulted in OSHA citing the zoo for multiple serious violation that put employees and the visiting public in danger.

When the OSHA inspector showed up to investigate employee complaints, zoo director Pat Dingle denied him entry, much like he did to Action News. He slammed his office door on Action News without a word. 

OSHA's report says he turned them away because "he could" and stated he was a "retired police officer and knew how tough it would be to get a search warrant to conduct the inspection."

Animal welfare advocate Linda Faso says she's not surprised OSHA wrote the place up for serious violations after they finally got access. OSHA found the zoo not following industry standard by sending employees into the ape cage with no equipment to protect against scratches, cuts and disease.

"At any moment, one of those apes could grab somebody, bite them. That's the unknown," Faso said.

In the OSHA complaint, an employee quit after being injured by an ape wrote "I was put in extreme danger by Pat Dingle and fear for future zookeepers and the general public."

OSHA is also requiring him to upgrade his zookeeper house, which has been described as an electrical nightmare. OSHA found multiple serious hazards endangering the "young and inexperienced high school interns working on the school property."

"If there are electrical problems and fuses that are overloaded, that could cause a fire at any time," Faso said. "It's a death trap for those animals."

OSHA also wrote up violation in the reptile house, saying it has no safeguards such as exit signs. Dingle told the inspector he's aware OSHA requires that, but said "The room is small enough that if you didn't know where to go to exit the building, then it was your own fault."

OSHA has proposed penalties of $13,200. 

Although Pat Dingle wouldn't comment for this story, he has been quoted saying the $13,000 proposed fine by OSHA could possibly bankrupt the zoo and force it to close.

Although we don't know what Dingle's current salary is, Contact 13 obtained the zoo's 2010 IRS form, and it shows that year he pulled $105,000 in salary and rent he paid to himself as landlord.

"It's just a poorly-run facility," Faso said. "I wish Pat would do the right thing and step aside."

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