The National Zoo agreed yesterday to postpone a public deer hunt at its wildlife retreat after Rep. Sidney Yates (D-Ill.), chairman of the committee that controls the zoo's budget, requested a hearing on Nov. 4.
Yates is chairman of the House subcommittee that approves all money for the Smithsonian Institution, which operates the zoo. He told The Washington Post he telephoned David Challinor, assistant secretary of the Smithsonian, after receiving calls from several outraged citizens, including former Indiana senator Vance Hartke, who condemned the hunt as cruel and unnecessary.
"I asked him Challinor to postpone it until we could hold a hearing on it," Yates said. "He said 'Sure,' he'd be 'glad to do it.' "
The hearing was called, Yates said, because "we want to find out why the Smithsonian needs this hunt."
Earlier this week, Challinor said the zoo would go forward with its plans to thin the 1,000 white-tailed deer herd, whose numbers threaten the zoo's exotic game herds and alfalfa crop at its Front Royal, Va., retreat. The zoo has tried four times without success during the last two years to drive deer out of the refuge.
In an attempt to reduce the herd by one-third, the zoo had planned to allow bow-and-arrow hunters to kill deer for six days, beginning Nov. 1, and riflemen to continue the hunt Nov. 15 to 27. Challinor could not be reached for comment and several Smithsonian and zoo spokesmen said they were unaware the hunt had been postponed.
S. Dillon Ripley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, said he also was unaware of the postponement, but said his assistant has the authority to make such a decision. "I delegated these sorts of things," Ripley said. "I don't really have any opinion on it."
Several animal rights and environmental groups were horrified by the planned slaughter. The postponement was helped by the efforts of Yates and Hartke and a friend, John H. Studebaker, a longtime Washington transportation lobbyist.
"It seemed everyone was talking to the Smithsonian and zoo people," Hartke said. "We decided to talk to people on the Hill. It doesn't take an expert in political science to figure out where the money is."
Studebaker said, "This was a labor of love. I do not believe in the slaughtering of any animals. All we wanted was a postponement to get our ducks in a row."
Hartke, who practices law in Tysons Corner, said he objected to the hunt because he and his seven children are animal lovers. "This is a cruel thing. Of all the people under the sun, for the zoo to be involved in such a macabre idea!" Although he sympathized with zoo officials, he said the overpopulation problem "did not happen overnight and more humane methods, such as sterilization of the bucks, can be done."
Ann Cottrell Free, a local wildlife writer who alerted many to the hunt, said she hopes it will be canceled.