December 13th, 2013
10:03 AM ET
1 year ago

Report shows animal care 'severely lacking' at Smithsonian National Zoo

Updated 7:27 p.m., 12/13/2013

Washington (CNN) – A blistering internal report released this week is revealing big problems at the National Zoo and prompting a Congressional review.

On Wednesday, an endangered horse rammed into a fence inside its barn. A gazelle and an antelope-like animal broke their necks the same way. And a hog died from possible malnutrition.

Last month a zebra severely injured an animal keeper. Earlier this year Rusty the red panda got out, and a vulture escaped its enclosure. Both were recaptured.

"You don't hear this happening at zoos across the country. It certainly shouldn't be happening here at our National Zoo," Cathy Liss, president of the Animal Welfare Institute, said.

A safety inspector with the zoo said human error was the cause of the zebra attack, according to CNN affiliate WJLA. Gates were not properly closed between the zebra's stall and the yard where the keeper was working, leading the two to be in the same enclosure. A nearby gazelle was apparently spooked by the attack and ran into a fence, breaking its neck.

An internal investigation of the Cheetah Conservation Station, which houses cheetahs and other African savanna animals, found "animal care and overall organization, accountability, follow-up and communication are severely lacking."

But Pamela Baker-Masson, a spokesperson for the National Zoo, told CNN, "We never compromise safety and well-being of animals."

Officials point out that the zoo was again accredited in September by the Association for Zoos and Aquariums "after an extensive and rigorous review."

As for the deaths or escapes of the animals, officials say they've taken steps to prevent repeat episodes. The budget may also be partly to blame. The zoo does not charge admission, and Congress has cut $2 million over the past few years.

"This is where we look at ourselves very carefully, and we have to review what resources are available," Baker-Masson said.

A spokesperson for Ranking Member of the House Administration Committee Robert Brady said the Congressman has scheduled a briefing with Smithsonian officials to assess the problems.

"[Brady] wants to hear specifically how budget cuts could have led to this situation, and will offer additional comment after those discussions," the spokesperson said.

Some animal welfare advocates point out there've been no problems with the Zoo's star attractions, like the giant pandas.

The panda cubs get naming ceremonies, and the newest tigers receive around-the-clock attention.

"The lesser-known species, the less charismatic species aren't getting the attention that they clearly need," Liss said.

And they're giving the National Zoo attention it clearly doesn't want.

- CNN's Ashley Killough and Mary Grace Lucas contributed to this report.


Filed under: Washington D.C.
soundoff (165 Responses)
  1. bassman

    Solid reporting, CNN.

    December 13, 2013 10:08 am at 10:08 am |
  2. Sniffit

    Obviously unacceptable. Fund it right and cut the crap.

    December 13, 2013 10:28 am at 10:28 am |
  3. Sarah

    If budget is a problem, they just need to charge admission like every other zoo in the country. I'd rather pay admission to get in than to have animals receive inadequate care due to lack of funding.

    December 13, 2013 10:29 am at 10:29 am |
  4. "You can keep your plan, PERIOD." -- Lie of the Year from the Liar of the Century

    This is embarrasing people. Either take proper care of these animals or shut down. There is simply no excuse for this.

    December 13, 2013 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  5. Anonymous

    If you cage animals so the public can see them, you take on certain responsiblities to care for them.
    Negligence is not a good thing when you are dealing with the most vulnerable creatures.

    So, clean up your act. And, before some of you attack me....... no...I do not put animals before children.
    Both are dependent on their "keepers". Whether it's a zookeeper or a parent.

    December 13, 2013 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  6. julie

    I recently visited the National Zoo. It was my first visit in several years. Although most of the animals seemed fine, there were many that were exhibiting repetitive behavior. Seeing a beautiful cat pacing back and forth in boredom is heartbreaking. The animals exhibiting this behavior were mostly in their enclosures by themselves, while animals who were housed in pairs or groups seemed to be doing so much better. Even if Congress has cut funding to the National Zoo, I'm sure they receive a lot corporate funding, grants and charitable donations. There is no excuse for this zoo to be anything but excellent. I'm glad to see this article and hope it will be an incentive for improvement.

    December 13, 2013 10:30 am at 10:30 am |
  7. bilbfit

    Hopefully the animals housed in the Congressional and Presidential Section of the zoo will escape never to be heard from again.

    December 13, 2013 10:33 am at 10:33 am |
  8. HenryMiller

    "You don't hear this happening at zoos across the country. It certainly shouldn't be happening here at our National Zoo,"

    The National Zoo is affiliated with the federal government. Of course it's screwed up.

    December 13, 2013 10:36 am at 10:36 am |
  9. John-117

    They need to call the fire department then

    December 13, 2013 10:39 am at 10:39 am |
  10. Four_One

    Then slap them with as many animal cruelty charges as possible, fine the daylights out of them, and make sure they feel it! Friggen zoos.

    December 13, 2013 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  11. krabz

    In other news, an anteater tripped over it's tongue.

    December 13, 2013 10:40 am at 10:40 am |
  12. beezers

    You know it's bad when even the animals are trying to get out of DC.

    December 13, 2013 10:43 am at 10:43 am |
  13. Rudy NYC

    Sarah

    If budget is a problem, they just need to charge admission like every other zoo in the country. I'd rather pay admission to get in than to have animals receive inadequate care due to lack of funding.
    -----------------
    If it's a national park, then isn't it supposed to be free?

    December 13, 2013 10:45 am at 10:45 am |
  14. badianbrad

    They have 2 million visitors a year, at $3 each they would make up the shortfall

    December 13, 2013 10:46 am at 10:46 am |
  15. Samuel

    Am I the only one ashamed of the whole concept of a national zoo?

    December 13, 2013 10:47 am at 10:47 am |
  16. NorthboroughDan

    Perhaps it is time to rethink the concept of zoos.

    December 13, 2013 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  17. Boo

    Is there anyone in DC that is competent at their job? Apparently NOT!

    December 13, 2013 10:50 am at 10:50 am |
  18. leigh

    I agree Sarah. Zoos are becoming more necessary as we destroy the habitats of more and more animals. Some zoos are really fantastic and I don't mind paying to be a part of it. We actually have plans to be in DC after Christmas and visiting the zoo was a top "must do". Now I'm not so sure if it would be appropriate.

    December 13, 2013 10:52 am at 10:52 am |
  19. VJ

    Dc has become nightmare for the people as well as animals...

    December 13, 2013 10:54 am at 10:54 am |
  20. Pcarson

    They need to charge a nominal fee like $1.00/head which is very reasonable. The poor animals are always the ones getting neglected. Take care of them, it is the people's responsibility. Zebras and Elephants are the most deadly animals towards humans so they should have known that.

    December 13, 2013 10:55 am at 10:55 am |
  21. wildbunny

    Thank you AWI for exposing this zoo. It's sad and pathetic the way in which we treat animals in captivity. Oftentimes I think they they would be far better off without us forcing them into a life of captivity in habitats that are not suitable. Humans are grossly short sighted when it comes to this planet's animals. Our self-appointed dominion over these animals needs to cease.

    December 13, 2013 10:56 am at 10:56 am |
  22. Terry B.

    Hopefully one day another species will begin showing "humans" in their zoo, then perhaps we'll all understand the concept itself.

    December 13, 2013 10:58 am at 10:58 am |
  23. AlwaysRite

    How can they let an animal starve to death, aren't they watching what the animals eat and how much. This is inexcusable. The people in charge have to be held accountable and made sure this never happens again. I can see animals escaping once in a while but Starving to death,no way should that happen.

    December 13, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  24. Tutuvabene

    Sounds like an admission charge is in the National Zoo's future.

    December 13, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
  25. Rox

    They may not charge admission, but they charge $20 a pop to park. That should go towards something, shouldn't it?

    December 13, 2013 11:00 am at 11:00 am |
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