Jim Hall, the 38-year-old manager of a parks-operated farm in Prince George's County where children can pet the animals, says he is no longer surprised to find ducks, turkeys, and other farm animals killed or injured in the morning.
"I dread coming to work," said Hall, who said he found jsut two weeks ago one of the farm ducks dead, dangling from a rafter at the end of a child's belt.
The tormentors of the animals, U.S. Park Police say are children who steal into the farm from nearby housing developments late at night. Several juveniles have been arrested in the past, but the night-time tormenting of the animals continues, Hall said.
"You can see their little footprints." Hall said. "And what adult would come into a park during the night just to kill animals?"
Hall's partial listing of injured, killed, or stolen animals reads like a macabre version of a traditional Christmas carol: 20 stolen rabbits, 10 stolen chickens, six stolen turkeys, two hanged ducks, one bludgeoned turkey, one dead horse, and one injured goose.
The farm, which is owned and operated by the Maryland-National Capital Parks and Planning Commission, is called the "Maryland Farm" and is located in the Kettering area of the county. As many as 60,000 to 70,000 people annually come to see the animals and the gardens of lettuce, okra, cabbage, and cauliflower, Hall said.
The farm has been plagued by vandals ever since it opened seven years ago, Hall said. He pointed to an African goose that was hobbling away from a nearby pond.
"We discovered (that it was injured) this morning," Hall said. "Someone threw a rock and hit him in the leg last night."
"Last Thursday, we had to repair the whole back of the rabbit cage," Hall added.
Hall said the slaughter of the county farm animals has cost county taxpayers hundreds of dollars and has resulted in a "sentimental" lost to regular visitors of the farm.
"Where's your big turkey?" is the question Hall says many of his regular farm visitors have been asking. He said "they can't believe it" when he explains to them what happened.
The security problems at the farm are compounded by the fact that there are no fences around the farm to protect it from vandals. The cruel economics of the situation are such that it is less expensive to replace dead or stolen animals then to hire a 24-hour guard and build a fence, Hall said.
The U.S. Park Police provides routine protection in the course of patroling the nearby Robert M. Watkins Park, he said. A park police spokesman said that those juveniles who have been arrested were apprehended during stakeouts of the farm.
But Hall said his concern is that incidents of vandalism are increasing, nonetheless. He said that last month there were four incidents. This month, he said, there have already been four.
"To have people just come in and destroy it is terrible," Hall said. "I just can't understand why it happens."
Barry Mangum, deputy director of parks and recreation for MNCPPC in Prince George's County, said he and other officials were "shocked" by the incidents of animal slaughter by vandals.
"We have increased security and redesigned the animal cages. We are concerned, but we are going to try to keep our facilities operating," Mangum said.