Rare horse dies at National Zoo facility

A fishing cat fishing cat, of Southeast Asia, peers out from some bushes at the Smithsonian National Zoo Wednesday. Concerns about the quality of the zoo animals\' care have been raised as zoo officials say resources are stretched too thin due to budget cuts. (WTOP/Dick Uliano)

WASHINGTON – Just as concerns have been raised about animal deaths at the National Zoo, an endangered horse has died at the zoo’s facility in Front Royal, Va.

A Przewalski horse, a colt, was found with a broken neck at the zoo’s Conservation Biology Institute Wednesday.

“It’s pretty stunning and the timing is nothing that we can explain,” says National Zoo Spokesperson Pamela Baker-Masson.

Keepers found the colt near a damaged fence and Baker-Masson says the preliminary investigation indicates that it may have run into the fence.

“He was found in his large barn where he lived with his mother and other horses,” Baker-Masson says.

The death of the animal comes just as the zoo says it is adopting changes in procedures after a recent internal review raised concerns about animal deaths, injuries and escapes.

The review investigated the deaths of a Red River Hog and a Lesser Kudu, an antelope species. Both are native to Africa.

Baker-Masson says thinning resources have been part of the problem in animal care at the zoo.

But in a written statement, Gregory Abbott, press secretary for the Democratic minority on the House Administration Committee — the panel with jurisdiction over the Smithsonian Institution, says the committee was assured in the past that the animals were not being adversely impacted by budget cuts.

Abbott says the panel’s ranking Democrat Robert Brady, D-Pa., has scheduled a briefing from Smithsonian officials about complaints in the quality of animal care at the zoo.

In an email statement, Brady says he’s confused about the zoo’s claims that budget cuts were having an impact on the care for the animals since the Smithsonian has assured the House Administration Committee in the past that the animals were not being adversely impacted.

Brady supports stronger oversight of animal care.

Baker-Masson says there will be a thorough investigation into the death of the colt in Front Royal.

The Przewalski horse was identified as extinct in the wild. The National Zoo and other zoos are involved in a program of breeding and reintroducing the horse to its native Mongolia.

The National Zoo was most recently accredited in September by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Steven Feldman, senior vice president of the association, says the zoo “has met comprehensive mandatory standards.”

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