The National Zoo in Washington, D.C., is defending its decision to euthanize a fox it had trapped last week despite uncertainty it was the same fox that had killed 25 flamingos and a duck earlier this month.
The zoo set traps near the flamingo habitat after the mass killing of birds on May 2, catching a male fox late Thursday night or early Friday morning and euthanizing it shortly after, a spokesperson for the zoo confirmed to the Washington Examiner. According to zoo policy, the fox was humanely euthanized to avoid a repeat incident.
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“When a predator successfully breaches a barrier, it demonstrates a learned behavior, which will most likely be repeated and must be considered an ongoing threat,” said Pamela Baker-Masson, a spokeswoman for the National Zoo. “In this case, it appears the predator(s) displayed ‘surplus killing’ behavior (a predator kills more prey than they can immediately eat, so they hide or abandon the remainder). The zoo takes seriously its commitment to protect and care for its animals, and in this case, the removal of the predator was necessary.”
The fox that was captured later tested negative for rabies. However, officials told the Washington Examiner they could not confirm whether the fox that was euthanized was the same animal that had carried out the massacre at the zoo earlier this month, prompting concerns from some zoo-goers that the death was unnecessary.
However, alternative options such as relocating the fox wouldn’t have been viable due to the wild fox population in the district, Baker-Masson said.
“Red fox populations exist at near or at capacity in this region and currently are increasing due to their annual birth of kits,” she said. “Relocating the fox could have jeopardized his well-being and/or the foxes already using that home range.”
Shortly after the incident, zoo officials installed concrete dig barriers and fence mesh around the enclosure and moved some animals to temporary housing until the predator was caught. The attack was the first time an animal had breached the mesh enclosure since the flamingo exhibit opened in the 1970s, officials said.
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The fox had broken into the outdoor yard overnight on May 2 by digging through a softball-sized hole in the metal mesh that surrounds the enclosure. The mesh was last replaced in 2017 but had shown no signs of concern during an inspection on May 1.
As zoo officials arrived at the zoo the next morning, they found the deceased flamingos in the yard and spotted a fox that had escaped.
“This is a heartbreaking loss for us and everyone who cares about our animals,” said Brandie Smith, a zoo spokeswoman, at the time of the attack. “The barrier we used passed inspection and is used by other accredited zoos across the country. Our focus now is on the well-being of the remaining flock and fortifying our habitats.”