Anti-Pest Campaign Intensifies At Zoo
"This display was just loaded with mice -- they were breeding in the holes of the logs," Alberts said, stopping in front of the golden lion tamarins at the Small Mammal House.
Mice, she said, "were coming through the front door" at the Small Mammal and Amazonia exhibits, squeezing under narrow gaps at the door's base. She showed how rats had cut a path in the grass to the Ape House and how some had climbed into the building through the orangutan yard.
Rats also were in the flight cage at the Bird House, and mice were living in the fiberglass insulation around water pipes on Lemur Island, she said.
Alberts has consulted federal pesticide specialists and sought advice from several other zoos. She brought in a wildlife expert from Fairfax County and joined him one night as he surveyed the park with an infrared camera to see where rats were hiding. This year, Alberts and Prince Seabron, the zoo's pest control officer, as well as keepers, curators and the maintenance crew, began an intensive program for reducing rodents.
The initial emphasis was on mechanical traps that snap shut with lethal force. More recently, the zoo started paying $5,000 a month to another private contractor, Steritech, a firm that has done other work for the Smithsonian, to oversee the use of poison bait boxes and other pest control efforts.
"You try the least toxic way first, mechanical removal of the rodents," Alberts said. "Then, you go to rodenticides."
A committee of zoo employees, including veterinarians and Spelman, now must sign off on all chemicals used in the park. Most of the traps and bait boxes are put out at night or before dawn and removed each day before the zoo opens. No rat poison is permitted in any animal yard or exhibit.
Amazonia will undergo more rodent-proofing in August when the exhibit is shut down for renovations. But much of the rodent work in the Elephant House is on hold because animals there will be moved in a year as part of the future Asia Trail opening.
Still to come are efforts to target rodents in sewers and the basements of buildings.
While rodents are the top priority, Alberts is also working to reduce insects. A pesticide expert from the University of Maryland comes twice a week to spray for yellow jackets, a particular concern for visitors. Kandula, the zoo's young male elephant, is extremely sensitive to stings.
At the cheetah exhibit, stable flies are being killed by a device that uses certain wavelengths of light to attract them to a "sticky board," Alberts said.
The zoo recently acquired two new female red pandas, now in quarantine. One will go on exhibit July 12. The other, however, is being treated for severe dental problems and will not be exhibited, the zoo said. The zoo hopes to acquire a healthier red panda soon.
Alberts said the revamped red panda enclosure will have a black rat snake to discourage rodents, a tactic that has worked well in the zoo's bear exhibit.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
The National Zoo's pest management specialist, Suzy Alberts, discovers an area at the zoo where rats have created a path in the grass.
(Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)
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