Zoo announces death of endangered horse at Front Royal campus, 4th animal death in a year


Two newborn Przewalski's foals explore their pasture at the National Zoo’s Conservation and Research Center. (Mehgan Murphy/National Zoo)
December 11, 2013

The National Zoo said Wednesday that another animal under its care had been found dead, this time a young Przewalski’s horse in a barn at the zoo’s Conservation Biology Institute, a sprawling research site in Front Royal, Va.

The horse — which is critically endangered in the wild — appears to have charged into a fence inside the barn, where it lived with its mother, and broken its neck, the zoo said. The colt was 4 months old.

It was found Wednesday morning, lying beside the fence, which was bowed outward. Preliminary necropsy revealed a traumatic neck fracture.

The death comes after the recent deaths of three other animals at the main zoo campus in Northwest Washington.

Two of those, a Dama gazelle and antelope-like animal called a kudu, also died after smashing into walls and breaking their necks. The third death was that of a malnourished red river hog that perished as a result of skin and other infections and improper nutrition.

All the animals died within the past year — the gazelle in an incident where it was spooked when a keeper was attacked by zebra in an adjoining compound. All but the horse death happened in the Cheetah Conservation Station exhibit.

The zoo has said it conducted an investigation into prior animal deaths and bears responsibility. But zoo Director Dennis Kelly blamed the lapses, and others turned up in the investigation, largely on federal budget cuts and stretched staff and resources.

At the same time Wednesday, the zoo released its investigative report. The 17-page document details two of the deaths and portrays an institution, famous for its high-profile giant panda and elephant exhibits, that seems badly frayed at the edges.

It reviews lack of proper space to house lower-profile animals, and hints at inexperience, friction and poor communication among the zoo’s staff.

In its response document, the zoo said it is working to enlarge and improve enclosures, improve communication and procedures, and notes that it had just been reaccredited by the Association for Zoos and Aquariums.

Mike is a general assignment reporter who also covers Washington institutions and historical topics.
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