Ducklings Die in Pool Drain At American Indian Museum

By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 23, 2008

At first, there were 10 ducklings. After a horrifying few moments, there were only five.

On Saturday afternoon on the Mall, passersby watched as a mother duck and her offspring paddled in a series of man-made pools outside the National Museum of the American Indian. The five ducklings died when they were pulled into a drain, even as guards and maintenance workers rushed to save them.

It was not the first time. A museum spokeswoman said ducklings have died in the fountain machinery four or five times since the museum opened in September 2004. In the latest case, equipment installed to protect wildlife appeared to have failed, she said.

"Nobody wants to see any sort of wildlife killed," spokeswoman Leonda Levchuk said. The incident was especially painful for the museum because it occurred at a busy hour and in an area full of visitors, she said. "We hate to see when visitors actually witness them kind of being sucked away."

Levchuk said the incident occurred about 1 p.m. Saturday in a pool on the north side of the museum, at Fourth Street and Independence Avenue SW. Water cascades onto a series of boulders and flows into pools and waterfalls meant to simulate Tiber Creek, a waterway that once ran through the area.

In one area, the lowest pool in a waterfall drains into a water-filtration system. The ducklings were swimming in that area when the current pulled them toward a drain, Levchuk said.

The drains had been covered with protective gratings last year after young birds were killed in a similar manner, Levchuk said. On Saturday, she said, the grates might have been loosened by the flow of water, allowing the ducklings to slip through.

Ellin Crane, a tour company employee accompanying a group of Australian visitors on the Mall, said that a member of the group had described the scene to her later Saturday.

"The children were standing there oohing and aahing" at the site of the ducks paddling along placidly, Crane said in a telephone interview. "And that's when they were sucked into the filtration system."

The tourist said the children had cried when the ducklings were caught in the filter, adding that the incident was "devastating."

After the ducklings disappeared, Levchuk said, guards called museum maintenance workers, who responded within 15 minutes. The workers waded into the fountain and retrieved the five remaining ducklings unharmed.

Levchuk said yesterday that the museum will add netting around the grates as a temporary safety measure. A better grate will be added next week, she said, and other safety measures will be installed at a drain closer to the museum's entrance.

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