When a curator of the bird collection at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington arrived for work Monday morning, she was shocked to see a wild fox leave the flamingo’s habitat.
By then it was too late.
The fox had killed 25 American flamingos and a northern ruddy duck, apparently after gnawing a baseball-sized hole in the chain-link fence surrounding the birds’ outdoor patio.
“I can’t even imagine the effort,” Brandie Smith, director of the National Zoo and the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institution’s director, said in an interview, adding that it was most likely the work of “a very determined fox” who was able to have been trying to support their young, known as kits.
Now the zoo is tightening security around its bird exhibits in case the escaped fox strikes again.
The zoo called it “the first breach in the predator mesh” at its flamingo exhibit, a 9,750-square-foot expanse with a heated pool and barn, which has remained largely unchanged since the 1970s. Three other flamingos they were injured in the attack and were being treated at the zoo’s veterinary hospital.
“This is a heartbreaking loss for us and for everyone who cares about our animals,” Dr. Smith said in a statement. “The barrier we use passed inspection and is used by other accredited zoos across the country. Our focus now is on the welfare of the remaining flock and strengthening our habitats.”
Known for their bright pink plumage and graceful one-legged stance, flamingos can live for 40 to 60 years, and the zoo still has 49 in its collection. Although they are not considered endangered, they are relatively rare in the United States. But they have been known to defy the odds.
In March, a fishing guide spotted an African flamingo known simply as No. 492 in Port Lavaca, Texas, 17 years after it flew away from the Sedgwick County Zoo in Wichita, Kansas.
Foxes have also been known to prowl around Washington. Last month, a fox roaming the Capitol bit at least nine people, including a member of Congress, before it was caught, euthanized and tested positive for rabies. The three fox cubs were also euthanized due to their exposure to their rabid mother.
Officials at the National Zoo said employees check the perimeters of bird exhibits twice a day to make sure they are intact, and nothing happened when the outdoor patios surrounding the Bird House were last inspected. at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday.
But after the birds were found mutilated 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 Zoos. and Aquariums.
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 catch wild animals and digital cameras with infrared motion sensors to monitor the movements of any creatures that might be sniffing the zoo grounds at night.
The surviving flamingos were moved inside their stable and the remaining ducks to a covered, secure outdoor space, zoo officials said. But zoo workers tending to the herds were still devastated, Dr. Smith said.
“This is an amazing team of people who had to respond to the death of the flamingos and also make sure that the rest of the flamingos and all the other birds were protected,” he said. “The whole team is still in shock.”