December 13th, 2013
10:03 AM ET
12 months 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. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    That animal is from Bengazi! This is Obama's fault! Issa needs to investigate this!

    December 13, 2013 12:41 pm at 12:41 pm |
  2. truth hurts but reality bites

    OK, so based on the responses here:\

    1. the Zoo charges 20-30 to park.
    2. they have contribution bxes put up already
    3. they get federal money

    and people are claiming that money is the problem??? Yeah, right! I smell a rat and it isn't the one in the Zoo!

    December 13, 2013 12:42 pm at 12:42 pm |
  3. NKBL

    You can donate by being a member. You get free parking and animal crackers for your children. Also having a membership may frequent your visit to the zoo, despite your reluctance of spending time with your kids on weekends.

    December 13, 2013 12:43 pm at 12:43 pm |
  4. Fair is Fair

    Zoos are nothing but prisons for innocent animals. Outlaw them. And no, I'm NOT being sarcastic.

    December 13, 2013 12:44 pm at 12:44 pm |
  5. just saying

    they would probably have enough money if they weren't paying their union workers $75 an hour to sweep the sidewalks.

    December 13, 2013 12:45 pm at 12:45 pm |
  6. Brian

    Spend the money on defense and not on de' fence.

    December 13, 2013 12:47 pm at 12:47 pm |
  7. shiboof

    Obviously not a 'wonderful zoo' by any stretch of the imagination. And with any business this place puts profits above animal care. Not unusual, not a surprise and not acceptable. Zoos are atrocious places, this one is no exception.

    December 13, 2013 12:48 pm at 12:48 pm |
  8. Jeff Brown in Jersey

    @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.

    No, you are not an animal. Animals are not ignorant racists like you.

    December 13, 2013 12:50 pm at 12:50 pm |
  9. Daniel

    Shocker: National Park that has seen over 2 shutdowns in the past couple years and other cut backs due to instability in our government and the manner they mishandle tax revenue has lapses in care. Sounds like something I would expect from a place that doesn't charge admission and that most people take the Metro or walk to.

    December 13, 2013 12:53 pm at 12:53 pm |
  10. citizenUSA

    I'm with Fair is Fair. I think zoos should be shut down. I loved them as a kid and adult. I think it's been great for all of us to see animals we normally wouldn't. But at this point in my life, I'd rather know these animals are thriving in their natural habitats. We've all heard the stories about how amimals are "captured" for our pleasure

    December 13, 2013 01:00 pm at 1:00 pm |
  11. IDontKnow

    Zoos = some lump in the corner of a cage or glass box sound asleep with a sign that says the animals are nocturnal. The zoo is not open at night. I don't go to zoos anymore.

    December 13, 2013 01:03 pm at 1:03 pm |
  12. Donna

    Shut down all the zoos. Return the animals to sanctuaries or rehab for release back to their original environments.

    December 13, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  13. ted

    This is great example of what government ran operations look like

    December 13, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  14. Mike

    How are those quota and EEOC hires working out?

    December 13, 2013 01:04 pm at 1:04 pm |
  15. enlighten me

    right on and well put – a prison- makes me cry – set the animals free they are trying so hard to tell us that by killing their keepers- we have no right to put them in tiny cells they have done nothering to us. ever seen one going in circles in it's cage it is very sad- a big ole tiger in a 20 X 30 foot cell or whatever size it is does not compare to a field of tall grass to roam in across around and over with creatures of a similar kind
    we do not have hearts anymore the world is set on give me more power, more money more material possesions (the state of having, owning, or controlling something)

    December 13, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  16. Tommy G

    As much as I hate to see animals locked up or even tied up (I refused to put my dog on a run, instead she was trined to stay in the yard), they do serve a purpose today as more and more of these animals become endangered in the wild. I just wish that instead of these urban zoos the animals could be more free in rural safari type parks.

    December 13, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  17. Real

    Zoos should be places where people can go to learn about and enjoy being in the presence of the world's animals. The animals should receive nearly identical environmental living conditions as those they would experience in the wild. This is impossible, but the tradeoff for the animals having smaller enclosures and restricted hunting and diet is their ensured survival and health. This is why some conservatives are allowed to participate in society. We try to give them just enough space to simulate real life, but not enough that they harm themselves. Unfortunately, when they vote themselves into high ranking political positions, it is difficult to retrieve them and sometimes they end up throwing themselves into prison. Though it does make for an entertaining sideshow.

    December 13, 2013 01:07 pm at 1:07 pm |
  18. sally

    The National Zoo should have very good funding and cutbacks are bound to be reflected in the care and attention the animals are receiving. It is very, very important that this zoo be a sterling example of how to run a zoo. We should not penny pinch with captive animals...ever! The zoo should do a full check up on all the issues mentioned in the report and take action, plus ask for more funding is necessary.

    December 13, 2013 01:08 pm at 1:08 pm |
  19. Rudy NYC

    Donna wrote:

    "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.
    -------------------------
    If you're trying to blame Democrats for our current progressive tax system, then you're woefully misinformed. Ronald Reagan put the framework of our cuttent system in place. The progressive tax system is a conservative policy. Reagan bought millions of votes by giving people enormous tax breaks, winning elections by record landslides. If you don't like it, then blame him.

    Besides, complaining about people who don't pay taxes goes entirely against the grain of right wing ideology. You want to actualLY RAISE TAXES on people. "not paying their fair share" Come on, Donna. You're talking like one of your stereotypical liberals. BTW, you can count folks like Mitt Romney and many multi-nationals into that "not paying their fair share" category.

    December 13, 2013 01:09 pm at 1:09 pm |
  20. Rock Reynolds

    Our national animal prison/torture center is in trouble???
    Who'd a thunk it?
    Maybe the national animal prison should release these magnificent creatures.
    Maybe the national animal prison shouldn't learn "animal care" from the CIA.

    December 13, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  21. Silence DoGood

    @Fair is Fair
    Zoos are nothing but prisons for innocent animals. Outlaw them. And no, I'm NOT being sarcastic.
    ------------
    Some animals only exist in zoos.

    December 13, 2013 01:10 pm at 1:10 pm |
  22. Lynda/Minnesota

    Fair is Fair
    Zoos are nothing but prisons for innocent animals. Outlaw them. And no, I'm NOT being sarcastic.
    ---------------–

    I wholeheartedly agree, Fair. Thank goodness my grandchildren also agree. Having begged me to visit a local zoo here in Minnesota, that one (and only) visit was all it took for all four of them to decide zoo's should never again be put our "to do" list.

    December 13, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  23. No Way Jose

    All these injured and mistreated animals...wait, we'll just sign them up for Obamacare!!

    No, that's way more inhumane....

    December 13, 2013 01:11 pm at 1:11 pm |
  24. Silence DoGood

    @just saying "they would probably have enough money if they weren't paying their union workers "
    OK we just changed the GOP-Tea slogan from "guns over people" to "guns and animals over people".

    December 13, 2013 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  25. UncleJohn

    I have a friend who's lived across the street from the National Zoo for at least 15 years, so every two years or so, I spend a couple of days at the National Zoo. My general impression is that while it is a really well designed zoo, it's been falling more into disrepair on every visit. The animals themselves always seem well cared, from a visitor's perspective anyway, and the addition of the Spray Zone warning signs outside of the big cat cages are most appreciated.

    On every 2-year visit, though, it has looked to me that the infrastructure is diminished from the previous visit – landscaping starting to run wild, sidewalks beginning to slope or have cracks, a touch of peeling paint here or there. All ordinary wear but things you might postpone if you're forced to choose between the animals and the facility.

    Overall, I always enjoy the visit but leave a little sad.

    December 13, 2013 01:17 pm at 1:17 pm |
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