"Stretched resources" blamed for all hell breaking loose at the National Zoo

Three deaths, two escapes and other recent incidents raise concerns

Published December 11, 2013 10:24PM (EST)

Something's off at the National Zoo.

You'll recall how, in November, a zebra attacked a zookeeper, who was sent, bleeding but conscious, to the emergency room. Later that day, it was discovered that an endangered gazelle, apparently startled by the chaos, ran headfirst into a wall and died.

A CBS investigation Tuesday revealed allegations of mismanagement from five anonymous National Zoo employees. The workers cited lapses that led to the death of the gazelle, as well as a pregnant kudu, who also ran into a barrier, and a red river hog, who died of apparent malnutrition after acquiring an infection. They also expressed concern about the recent escapes of a vulture and a red panda, and about potentially inhumane conditions:

Issues identified by the zoo sources include two newly acquired hornbill birds that were kept in an indoor shack for seven months because their exhibit yard wasn't ready. Only after a volunteer complained were the birds allowed in an outdoor space. But the wallaby that had to share its yard with these new arrivals became frightened, according to sources, bloodied its nose and spent much of its time frightened and hiding.

One of two new red river hogs quickly became malnourished and died of an infection. The other hog, along with oryxes and sitatungas (two types of antelopes), sometimes became overly aggressive when mixed together, and some were injured in vicious fights.

It's not unusual for animals to spar, but the zoo sources say management failed to predict easily foreseeable conflicts between species and genders, and had ineffective backup plans for separating and protecting the animals when the conflicts arose.

The zoo convened a task force to review concerns last summer, but refuses to release its findings to the public; in a statement on its website, the zoo insisted that it has "adjusted animal care procedures to prevent similar incidents in the future and increased standards of communication among Zoo departments and staff."

In an interview with the Washington Post, the zoo's director blamed the incidents, including the recent zebra attack, on stretched resources:

“We are spread too thin, is the conclusion that I’ve come to. Not just that area. It’s really the whole zoo — I dare say the whole Smithsonian . . . as a result of the almost three years now of budget uncertainty and budget cuts."

"My staff is as good as anybody in the zoological community. We’re well-trained. People know what they’re doing. They’re dedicated. For the collection that we have, we’re spreading ourselves too thin at the moment.”

h/t Huffington Post

By Lindsay Abrams

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Animal Abuse National Zoo Smithsonian Wildlife