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. karl from az

    'Shoulda' signed them up for ObamaCare!

    December 13, 2013 12:03 pm at 12:03 pm |
  2. anonymous

    Can't put up admission gates? Then put up donation boxes at numerous places in the park. People would be glad to contribute a few bucks to make sure these animals are well cared for. Of course, this being Washington DC, these boxes would have to be emptied frequently and anchored with 5 tons of concrete.

    December 13, 2013 12:07 pm at 12:07 pm |
  3. Marie MD

    For those of you making light of the Zoo problems and the animal deaths through no fault of their own and inserting Obamacare into the mix I wish there was something that could be done to cure ignorant and help you live better lives!
    The charge for going to the National Zoo is for parking. Too many entrances.

    December 13, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  4. Rudy NYC

    anonymous

    Can't put up admission gates? Then put up donation boxes at numerous places in the park. People would be glad to contribute a few bucks to make sure these animals are well cared for. Of course, this being Washington DC, these boxes would have to be emptied frequently and anchored with 5 tons of concrete.
    ----------------
    Yeah, that wouldn't work out so well. Sounds like the "boxes" would be cost prohibitive. Here's a thought. How about restoring the millions in funding that has been cut in recent years by the House.

    December 13, 2013 12:16 pm at 12:16 pm |
  5. Jaggersden

    It's a wonder that any zoo in this country has living animals when one looks how we treat our own animals, our neighbors our cousins, in some cases our children. There are malnurished living in your block but you just look the other way. Why should a zoo be any different.
    Why are we sending billions of dollars, that we have to borrow, to other countries? The family comes first then you can reach out a helping hand. BUT DON'T BORROW TO GIVE IT AWAY. Stupid, ridiculous and asinine.l
    I have reached old age and I don't know why, I surely don't deserve it. and after watching this country for seventy plus years I will be glad to go.

    December 13, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  6. no way out

    This is so so sad.

    December 13, 2013 12:17 pm at 12:17 pm |
  7. Freedom

    How about we stop caging animals for our entertainment?
    It's bad enough we raise them for slaughter do we have to stare at them too while we eat popcorn?

    December 13, 2013 12:20 pm at 12:20 pm |
  8. shan

    @karl U people continue to amaze with your pure wit and unyielding tenacity that is, dare I say, fervent...!

    December 13, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  9. nk

    Thats because animals are not meant to be kept in cages.

    December 13, 2013 12:21 pm at 12:21 pm |
  10. Sammie

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

    This is where? Where have you BEEN up to now????

    December 13, 2013 12:22 pm at 12:22 pm |
  11. Steve

    I believe the National Zoo should charge – and not to raise funds; if they charge they'd have to make an effort to earn the entrance ticket. Compare the National Zoo to Zoos that charge admission and it's severely lacking, empty exhibit, and exhibits that seem designed to hide the animals from visitors.

    December 13, 2013 12:23 pm at 12:23 pm |
  12. jez oh peete

    The government screws up everything they get their hands on. Remember the problems at Arlington National cemetery.
    The healthcare website. The $600.00 toilet seats for the army. It never ends

    December 13, 2013 12:24 pm at 12:24 pm |
  13. anonymous

    Rudy NYC
    anonymous
    Can't put up admission gates? Then put up donation boxes at numerous places in the park. People would be glad to contribute a few bucks to make sure these animals are well cared for. Of course, this being Washington DC, these boxes would have to be emptied frequently and anchored with 5 tons of concrete.
    ------
    Yeah, that wouldn't work out so well. Sounds like the "boxes" would be cost prohibitive. Here's a thought. How about restoring the millions in funding that has been cut in recent years by the House.
    -–

    Yeah, based on the Obamacare website, the boxes would probably cost a billion or two each. Here's a crazy suggestion, how about putting it out to bid to all local contractors and select one that has actually done something similar? Don't just award it to Michelle Obama's college friend who doesn't know what a donation box looks like.

    December 13, 2013 12:29 pm at 12:29 pm |
  14. Woman In California

    I hope the animals get the attention they deserve but I don't expect too much considering the society we live in.

    December 13, 2013 12:30 pm at 12:30 pm |
  15. Carol

    As usual...the USA at it's finest! Why not charge?
    People are not going to stop taking their children to the Zoo because they have to pay. I would think we would gladly pay to see that the animals are being treated right. Such a disgrace!!

    December 13, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  16. Jonathan

    Have worked in an conservation institution and the rooting diseases are in places, administrator looking at their salary and incompetent at their task, and animals keepers tearing their hairs off trying to save the animals...I left before tearing me apart.

    December 13, 2013 12:32 pm at 12:32 pm |
  17. Silence DoGood

    @Sniffit
    "Seems the Federal health care does not even work for the National Zoo...so why would any of us expect ObamaCare to be any better for us on the other side of the bars???"

    And the prize for today's worst analogy and largest leap in logic goes to........
    --------–
    I just found out that none of those animals were allowed to vote while Obama was president. The first step of socialist dictator is to deny animal votes. Someone tell Rush.

    December 13, 2013 12:33 pm at 12:33 pm |
  18. Religion

    The national zoo does charge, for parking. I think it is $20-$30. It also has donation boxes (and they arent in concrete).

    December 13, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  19. Zoo?

    I thought you were refering to the Whitehouse...

    December 13, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  20. Candy

    The only animals that should be in Zoo's are rescues. The rat should be in their natural habitat.

    December 13, 2013 12:34 pm at 12:34 pm |
  21. Brian

    How about stop spending another cent at the zoo until there is a plan to stop the 25k Airmen the USAF is going to cut next year?

    December 13, 2013 12:36 pm at 12:36 pm |
  22. get the facts first

    People, FIX IT, don't fixate on punishment. Anyone reading here who has ever kept a pet and that pet isn't still alive, guess what? Accidents happen and all living things die at some point. Are you "inept" if your pet escaped once or died from an illness? It happens from time to time. I'm an excellent caretaker and my cats have all escaped at least once to be quickly recaptured. One of my cats died from cancer. Does that make me a bad steward? No. Death from malnutrition is sometimes a technical term for an animal who has untreatable bowel disease and who eventually succumbs or is euthanized. It happens people! Don't judge until you know all of the facts.

    December 13, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  23. Pam from Iowa

    must be a Republican running it............gets elected....then doesn't give a damn..........

    December 13, 2013 12:38 pm at 12:38 pm |
  24. Donna

    Rudy NYC
    Inciteful
    The National Zoo should charge for admission.
    -----
    The already do, and the annual fee is due every April 16.
    --

    Problem with that is that 47% ar enot paying their fair share towards maintaining the zoo. Thanks for playing though.

    December 13, 2013 12:40 pm at 12:40 pm |
  25. I am NOT an ANIMAL!!

    Put the animals in the white in the zoo and the animals in the zoo in the white house. Nobody will notice.

    December 13, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7