The National Zoo’s Department of Pathology

For many decades, the pathology department at the zoo has maintained an extraordinary reputation for excellence. However, a backlog of uncompleted pathology reports from 2000-2003 had accumulated, and annual morbidity and mortality assessments had not been completed. This backlog included approximately 21% of pathology cases from 2003. The department under the leadership of the acting supervisory pathologist has already eliminated the backlog from 2003, has plans to eliminate the remaining backlog by May 2005, and is scheduled to complete the 2003 morbidity and mortality assessment by the end of 2004.


  • Performance measures should be established for the pathology department to monitor operations and ensure that until a permanent supervisory pathologist is hired, the department has adequate staff to meet the pathology needs of the zoo and continue consulting with the larger zoo community.

Occupational Health and Safety Programs

The zoo’s occupational health and safety (OHS) program is operating effectively, although it remains in a reactive mode. The safety officer is positioned appropriately by directly reporting into the director’s office and is well qualified and knowledgeable regarding Smithsonian policies and procedures, OHS standards, and the principles for managing safety and health programs. The OHS program has a zoo-wide chemical-approval procedure, a comprehensive chemical-inventory database, and consistent safety procedures. In addition, escape drills have been held recently, and the OHS program offers safety-training classes. Those procedures and activities have helped the Safety Program move toward proactive, albeit still in many respects reactive, management of health and safety risks. However, there are still concerns regarding occupational health and safety at the zoo, one of which is the state of the Rock Creek Park health clinic. The health clinic is of inadequate size, floods occasionally, has only one exit, does not have the capability of providing complete health monitoring of workers, and is poorly equipped for emergency care.

Although the OHS program has written policies in place on good safety practices, there has been a lack of compliance with these policies in some areas of the zoo; for example, primate keepers feeding great apes without ready access to a two-way radio and failing to wear attire that conforms to safety policies. There is also a concern with the zoo’s zoonosis program: testing and immunization requirements are not being determined by personnel trained and experienced in occupational health and infectious disease and as a result are inconsistent across the zoo.


  • The zoo’s Safety Department should continue to shift its emphasis toward a more proactive, anticipatory role rather than reacting to events as they occur.

  • Formal written policies pertaining to good safety practice should be enforced, and senior management should ensure inclusion of OHS training in a comprehensive training program for animal-care staff.

  • Safety department staff trained in occupational health and infectious disease should determine the testing and immunization requirements for zoo employees based on a hazard and exposure assessment developed with input from unit supervisors.

  • The Smithsonian Institution must correct the deficiencies in the health clinic facilities at the Rock Creek Park facility.

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