When a bird collection curator at Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington came to work Monday morning, she was surprised to see a wild fox leave the flamingo habitat.
By then it was too late.
The fox had killed 25 American flamingos and a northern pintail duck, apparently after gnawing on a softball-sized hole in the wire mesh surrounding the birds’ outer yard.
“I can’t even imagine the effort,” Brandie Smith, director of the National Zoo and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, said in an interview, adding that it was most likely the work of “a very determined fox” that he may have been looking for. to provide for her young, known as kits.
Now, the zoo is tightening security measures around its bird exhibits in case the escaped fox strikes again.
The zoo called it “the first predator network breach” in its flamingo exhibit, a 9,750-square-foot expanse with a heated pool and barn that has remained essentially unchanged since the 1970s. Three other flamingos were injured in the attack and were treated in the zoo’s veterinary hospital.
“This is a heartbreaking loss for us and for all who care for our animals,” said Dr. Smith in a statement. “The barrier we used has passed inspection and is used by other accredited zoos across the country. Our focus now is on the welfare of the remaining flock and the fortification of our habitats. “
Famous for their bright pink plumage and elegant position on one leg, flamingos can live for around 40 to 60 years, and the zoo still has 49 in its collection. While not considered endangered, they are relatively rare in the United States. But they have been known to defy the odds.
In March, an African flamingo known simply as the No. 492 was spotted by a fishing guide in Port Lavaca, Texas, 17 years after flying away from the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kan.
Foxes are also known to roam Washington. Last month, a fox roaming Capitol Hill bit at least nine people, including a congressman, before being captured, euthanized and tested positive for rabies. The three fox kittens were also euthanized due to their exposure to the angry mother.
National zoo officials said employees check the perimeters of the bird exhibits twice a day to make sure they are intact and that there was nothing wrong when the outer courtyards surrounding the Bird House were inspected. last time at 2.30pm on Sunday.
But after the birds were found mauled Monday morning, zoo workers noticed a small hole in the mesh enclosure, which was last replaced in 2017 and passed an accreditation inspection by the Association of Animals. zoo and aquarium.
Dr Smith said the zoo was now adding more wire mesh around the flamingo area and other bird enclosures and installing more electrified fences to repel foxes and other predators, such as raccoons, that live near the zoo.
Zoo workers, he said, were also setting up live traps to capture wild animals and digital cameras with infrared motion sensors to monitor the movements of any creatures that might sniff around the zoo’s grounds at night.
The surviving flamingos were moved indoors to their stable and the remaining ducks to a safe, covered outdoor space, zoo officials said. But the zoo workers caring for the flocks were still devastated, Dr. Smith said.
“This is an incredible staff of people who had to respond to the death of the flamingos and also make sure that the rest of the flamingos and every other bird were protected,” he said. “The whole team is still in shock.”