Investigations have begun at the Smithsonian National Zoo due to a number of recent incidents involving injuries and deaths at the zoo. According to an internal report released Wednesday, there is a severe lack of animal care in the outdoor cheetah exhibit. This report released the same day a colt broke its neck and eventually died at the facility.
This report had previously been kept under wraps, according to some reporters. CBS News had launched an earlier investigation into the deaths and injuries of several animals that had taken place at the zoo due to complaints left by five anonymous National Zoo workers. Despite repeated requests, Zoo officials reported refused to release the document even though it is a public record, according to public records law.
The report was written by a task force of the zoo’s Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee. They concluded the report, saying, "Animal care and overall organization, accountability, follow-up, and communication are severely lacking in the (Cheetah Conservation Station) area."
National Zoo officials disagree. In a written response, the zoo’s associate director for Animal Care Sciences, Don Moore stated, "While we agree with many of the findings, we take great care of hundreds of animals in a safe way every day.” According to Moore, the zoo has passed the Association of Zoo and Aquariums accreditation inspection as well as an inspection of the Cheetah Conservation Station by the U.S. Department of Agriculture since last December.
Zoo insiders reportedly told CBS that these problems began last year when zoo officials decided to double the population of the cheetah exhibit without expanding the space. The exhibit is home to cheetahs as well as other species such as zebras, gazelles and other smaller species.
Two animals have died in the exhibit since the new cheetahs were added. A Dama gazelle and a pregnant kudu which is a type of antelope have died after sustaining broken necks in the exhibit. It is believed that the animals got spooked on two separate occasions and broke their necks after running into barriers in their confined spaces.
The gazelle's death occurred last month after it was frightened by the commotion caused when a zebra attacked a veteran zookeeper. Zoo sources say the zebra attack occurred due to a break in protocol. The gazelle was not found for hours and the pregnant kudu died last June.
Other injuries to zoo animals include a bloodied nose and apparent psychological trauma to a wallaby. According to zoo sources, the zoo acquired two hornbill birds and kept them in an indoor shack for roughly seven months due to their exhibit not being ready yet. Only after a volunteer complained did they move them into an outdoor exhibit. They were made to share an exhibit with a wallaby that became so frightened of them that it bloodied its nose and spent most of the time frightened and hiding in its own exhibit. Another incident included one of the two new red river hogs housed at the zoo to quickly became malnourished and eventually died of septicemia. 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.
In addition to the deaths and injuries, there have been multiple animal escapes. A red panda was able to climb its way out of its cage and a vulture with improperly clipped wings managed to fly out of its. Both animals were eventually recaptured and the zoo claims the failures in the enclosures have been discovered and fixed.
The colt that died this past Wednesday was a Przewalski horse located at the zoo's Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia. It was found in a 2,500-square-foot barn where he lived with his mother, another female and her filly, according to Pamela Baker-Masson, the zoo's associate director of communications.
"The colt was last seen during routine rounds yesterday at 2:30 p.m. in fine health," she wrote. "This morning, keepers found the foal alongside the fence, which was bowed outward. The preliminary necropsy revealed a traumatic fracture of his neck.
National Zoo director, Dennis Kelly, blames these unfortunate incidences on lack of resources and funds.