City Councilor questions animal care at BioPark

·3 min read

Jun. 23—An Albuquerque city councilor is calling for an independent veterinary assessment of animals at the city's Botanic Garden Heritage Farm, saying some are going without water and are showing signs of other poor health or distress.

Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn presented a series of photos from the farm during Wednesday's City Council meeting that showed depleted water pans, multiple chickens and turkeys with swaths of visible skin due to missing feathers and a rooster missing a tail. She said she did not believe the park was properly tending to the animals in its care and requested that the city bring in an outside veterinarian to check them and also consider a plan to release them to a sanctuary.

There are 22 animals at the Heritage Farm currently, according to a city spokeswoman: five chickens, five bourbon red turkeys, seven Navajo churro sheep, three llamas, a horse and an alpaca. Officials say the BioPark veterinary staff makes regular rounds to check on them.

"I think the citizens of Albuquerque have a right to know what's happening at the BioPark," Fiebelkorn said at one point during the councilors' question-and-answer period with the city administration.

She said the photos came from a constituent and from her own personal visit on June 14. She said on her own visit she saw sheep without water.

"I was there for 45 minutes; it was so hot my phone overheated and I was unable to take additional photographs, yet these animals were there without any water — not appropriate," she said.

An official with the department that oversees the BioPark told the council that the Heritage Farm animals get the same level of veterinary care as other animals within the BioPark, which also includes the zoo, aquarium and Tingley Beach.

Brandon Gibson, deputy director for the Arts and Culture Department, said staff are keeping a "close eye" on the birds' molting, noting that the chickens have lived past their normal life span and dealing with mites. Gibson said pecking increases in the warmer months but that staff try to separate those on the receiving end.

"The chickens are on antibiotics now to help address this molting as well as receiving topical ointments as well," Gibson said during the meeting, saying he would have veterinary staff provide a more detailed response to the councilor's questions.

But Fiebelkorn remained skeptical. She questioned the need for the exhibit at all.

"I don't see how this display is helping the mission of the BioPark, which I was under the impression was conservation and research providing a comprehensive environmental park for the city of Albuquerque," she said.

The BioPark has two full-time veterinarians and two full-time veterinary technicians. The team is on the site or on-call at all times, makes "regular rounds" and immediately handles emergencies, spokeswoman Tanya Lenti said in written responses to Journal questions.

"The BioPark also has a full-time Manger of Animal Welfare & Behavioral Training who also makes regular rounds and works closely with all animal care professionals to ensure the highest level of care for all of the BioPark's animals," Lenti said. "All animals at the BioPark receive daily welfare assessments and care from animal care professionals."

She said multiple outside veterinarians have visited the ABQ BioPark in the last 13 months as part of regulatory requirements — one for the Association of Zoos & Aquariums accreditation process and two from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The AZA reaccredited the BioPark last September.