WASHINGTON (CBS NEWS)- The National Zoo has a reputation as a leader in animal care, science and cute photo opportunities such as the naming of Bao Bao the baby panda earlier this month.
But a CBS News investigation has learned that behind the scenes, there are insider allegations of mismanagement involving animal care. Five sources with more than 35 years' combined experience at the National Zoo have raised concerns to CBS News about recent animal injuries, deaths and escapes.
The sources don't want to be identified for fear of retaliation. They say problems began last year when the zoo decided to double the population of the Cheetah Conservation Station, adding a half dozen new species but no extra space. Besides cheetahs, the CCS also houses zebras, gazelles and other species.
CBS News asked animal biologist and ethicist Mark Bekoff to look at the complaints. He was an independent reviewer of a 2005 National Academy of Sciences investigation of the zoo that found "systemic problems at the highest levels."
Of the newly raised issues, Bekoff said: "I call it 'fetch and pray.' You get the animals and then you pray that the project will work out."
The CCS' new animal mix didn't always work out. Issues identified by the zoo sources include two newly acquired hornbill birds that were kept in an indoor shack for seven months because their exhibit yard wasn't ready. Only after a volunteer complained were the birds allowed in an outdoor space. But the wallaby that had to share its yard with these new arrivals became frightened, according to sources, bloodied its nose and spent much of its time frightened and hiding.
One of two new red river hogs quickly became malnourished and died of an infection. The other hog along with oryxes and sitatungas (two types of antelopes) sometimes became overly aggressive when mixed together, and some were injured in vicious fights.
It's not unusual for animals to spar, but the zoo sources say management failed to predict easily foreseeable conflicts between species and genders, and had ineffective backup plans for separating and protecting the animals when the conflicts arose.
READ THE FULL STORY HERE: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/are-there-animal-care-problems-at-national-zoo/