In the meantime, the zoo's popularity and income have been slipping and there has not been a major new exhibit to tout in six years. Attendance was less than 1.4 million for 1994, a nine-year low and more than 25% below the 1989 mark. Total income for the Greater Los Angeles Zoo Assn. has remained essentially stagnant. And the 1989 opening of Adventure Island, a cavernous habitat for mammals and birds, is the last that was a major draw. Even that addition fell on hard times with many of its animals escaping or being lost to flood or illness.
When it came time to debate how best to spend $23 million from a bond measure for zoo facilities, the internal strife at the zoo erupted into the open. A Goldstein-backed plan included proposals for a veterinary hospital, a new front gate and educational center, as well as a new polar bear and penguin exhibit. Many keepers believed that all the money should be directed toward animal exhibits. They felt vindicated by Wednesday's report by directors of the Atlanta, Cincinnati and Seattle zoos, which recommended redirecting most of the money toward exhibits while maintaining plans for new veterinary facilities.
"I'm just glad that all our work was not for naught," said Gretchen Schultz, a keeper who left the zoo last year. "The money should have gone to the animals."
The greatest concern about animals has centered on penguins and chimpanzees.
The zoo's small and dwindling collection of African penguins has been a particular frustration to several keepers and the zoo's chief curator. For months, they called on Goldstein to shut down the exhibit because of repeated deaths from malaria and other maladies that have reduced the collection from more than two dozen to just four birds.
But Goldstein has argued that the animals are an important part of the zoo's menagerie. Outside experts he called in to study the exhibit said improvements could be made to safely house the birds. But one curator said: "If all the birds die when we are trying to make a decision, then the decision is worthless."
Several zoo employees also complained that Goldstein was not moving quickly enough to improve a chimpanzee exhibit that has been widely criticized as too small, too hot and too unstimulating for the zoo's chimp troop.
Goldstein said he has moved ahead wisely with the commission of a $100,000 study, but several keepers said he could get results more quickly by turning to his own staff. Head curator Les Schobert, a recognized expert on chimp care, is frequently asked to design exhibits for other zoos.
But the zoo director insisted last year that he "was not shy about making decisions," citing as examples his reinstitution of a tram system, construction of a children's playground, enrichment of a tiger exhibit with waterfalls and pools, and improved safety in the elephant compound with new electronic gates.
* AT THE ZOO: Most visitors and workers welcome proposed revamping. B1