Twenty-five American flamingos and one Northern pintail duck were killed at the Smithsonian National Zoo this week in what appears to be a lone-fox attack. Three additional flamingos were injured and are receiving treatment at the Zoo’s veterinary hospital, officials announced in a press release.
Zoo staff discovered the dead flamingos when they arrived at the Bird House on the morning of May 2. In a moment that can only be described as cinematic, zookeepers spied a fox slinking around the Zoo’s outdoor flamingo yard, but it (of course) escaped.
“This is a heartbreaking loss for us and everyone who cares about our animals,” Brandie Smith, Director of Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute, said. “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.”
The flock originally had 74 flamingos, and zookeepers moved the surviving birds to indoor enclosures. Further investigation of the scene revealed a “softball-sized hole” in the “heavy-duty metal mesh” surrounding the outdoor yard. Zoo officials say that the exhibits are inspected multiple times per day by staff, and the last inspection on May 1 occurred at 2:30 p.m. The assessment didn’t identify any areas of concern, but it’s unclear precisely when the hole was created.
The metal mesh was last replaced in 2017 and has previously passed an accreditation inspection by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Zoo staff have reinforced the mesh and have installed live traps and camera traps to monitor and catch the fox if it tries to re-offend.
This is the first time a predator has ever breached the Bird House since its construction in the 1970s.
However, this is not the first time a fox has made headlines in the nation’s capital. Just last month, a rabid fox bit a congressman and eight other people before being captured and euthanized.
According to the Smithsonian, American flamingos are an “abundant bird species.” They’re also considered a species of “least concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.
The death of 25 captive individuals will not harm the overall species population. Still, the untimely demise of such a large percentage of a single flock is undoubtedly felt by humans and birds alike. Flamingos are extremely social birds with flocks sometimes numbering in the thousands. They are also monogamous, meaning they only mate with one other individual for their entire lifespan of 40 to 60 years.
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Feature image via Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute.