Officials of the National Zoo's volunteer support group refused last night to allow the drafting of a resolution opposing a proposed deer hunt on the zoo's game preserve near Front Royal, Va.
The resolution was proposed by some of the 150 members who attended last night's annual meeting of the Friends of the National Zoo (FONZ), which has26,000 dues-paying members nationwide.
The zoo had scheduled its second annual deer hunt for next month, but after a storm of protest from animal protection groups and some FONZ members the hunt was canceled pending a congressional hearing Nov. 4. A congressional committee has decided to investigate the zoo's claim that the hunt is the only way to solve the problem of too many white-tailed deer on its 3,100-acre property in Virginia's Blue Ridge.
Despite sometimes emotional protest by FONZ members, FONZ President Robert Nelson said it was the board of directors' decision that the organization could not begin to "dictate National Zoo policy. The deer hunt is a matter that lies solely with the zoo's professional staff. Comment by us as a group would be improper."
Nelson encouraged FONZ members to make their opinions known individually. Zoo officials from the game preserve attended the meeting to defend the hunt.
About a dozen FONZ members as well as representatives of the Society for the Ethical Treatment of Animals complained later about Nelson's decision. "It was a classic case of gag rule," said FONZ cofounder Ann Free. "I may have a card-burning ceremony -- my FONZ card in one hand and my Smithsonian card in the other," said Corinne Friedmann.
Not all FONZ members present favored a resolution, although the crowd was overwhelmingly opposed to the hunt. Many seemed to agree with FONZ member Montgomery Bradley, who urged others to call their members of Congress.
FONZ executive director Sabin Robbins called the meeting "democracy in action," and said telephone calls to FONZ from its members had been antihunt, while calls from the general public were for it. Zoo officials claim the hunt is necessary to protect the exotic animals that are bred at the game preserve and the alfalfa that is grown there.