cgy-capybara

One of the Calgary Zoo's two capybaras was crushed in December by a hydraulic gate. ((CBC))

An investigation into animal care at the Calgary Zoo is underway, with outside experts inspecting the facility starting Tuesday.

The death of a capybara crushed by a hydraulic gate in December prompted the zoo's president to call in the Canadian Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Washington, D.C.-based Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA).

A worker who didn't follow correct procedures was blamed for the capybara's death and suspended for two days without pay.

It wasn't the first incident to rile animal rights groups, which have questioned the zoo's practices after the deaths of several animals in the past few years, including a baby elephant, a hippo, a wild goat, four gorillas and more than 40 stingrays.

President and CEO Clément Lanthier said Tuesday he hopes the review by five experts without a direct connection to the Calgary Zoo will clear the facility's name.

"We would like to celebrate life at the zoo, but death is also part of life and we have to educate the community about this."

Dean of vet school on team

The inspection team will look at all aspects of animal care at the zoo from staff training to the facility itself.

Chair Nancy McToldridge, head of the Santa Barbara Zoo, said any concerns about the inspector's objectivity are unfounded.

"It behooves us to make sure that all of the AZA members are living up to the standards to the code of ethics and to a high level of animal care," she said.

In theory the inspection could lead to the Calgary Zoo having its accreditation yanked, she said.

The only person on the team not connected to the zoo industry is Alastair Cribb, dean of the University of Calgary's faculty of veterinary medicine.

"You could almost look at me as a community representative to make sure that this review lives up to its billing," he said.

Lanthier said he will make the results of the review public as soon as they are available.