‘Heartbreaking’: Wild Fox Chews Through Fence at National Zoo, Wreaks Havoc on Flamingo Enclosure

by Jon D. B.
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A third of the National Zoo’s flamingos were massacred this week following a break-in by a wild red fox from the neighboring park.

It’s “A heartbreaking loss for us and everyone who cares about our animals,” offers Brandie Smith, National Zoo director in Washington, DC. A heartbreaking loss for all who love to visit Smithsonian’s premier zoo, too.

As Associated Press confirms, zookeepers entered the outdoor birdhouse exhibit this week to find 25 of their 74 flamingos dead. The culprit? a wild red fox managed to chew a “softball-sized hole in the heavy-duty metal mesh that surrounds the outdoor yard,” cites an official zoo statement. Entering from the neighboring Rock Creek Park, the fox would then kill over two dozen birds, which the species will do for sport.

“Our focus now is on the well-being of the remaining flock and fortifying our habitats,” Smith adds. Three other flamingos were left injured along with those who survived. A Northern pintail duck was also killed during the wildlife attack.

WASHINGTON, NATIONAL ZOO: A flamingo feeds in the heated pool at the National Zoo’s outdoor flamingo display. The flamingos’ feathers provide enough insulation to keep them comfortable in below-freezing temperatures. AFP PHOTO / Robyn BECK (Getty Images)

Director Smith assures the public that their bird enclosure’s fencing will now be upgraded. “Other protective measures” will be put into effect, as well, to “prevent similar break-ins.”

As the birds live in an outdoor enclosure, each possesses clipped wings – rendering them unable to escape from predators. Clipping a bird’s wings itself does not injure the bird, however. Instead, the long primary feathers they use for flight receive clipping at the ends to prevent flight.

Fox Attack Comes as National Zoo Renovates Their Bird House Exhibit

The exhibit’s remaining flamingos are now within an indoor enclosure. All injured birds are currently receiving treatment from Smithsonian National Zoo veterinary staff.

Despite the tragic loss, the wild fox’s attack will not affect visitors, as the Zoo Bird House has not been open to the public for the season. Smithsonian is currently undertaking long-term renovations on the space; a 9,750-square-foot outdoor run filled with multiple species of exotic birds. All species have access to a heated pool and covered barn within.

Due to the renovations, zookeepers would last inspect the exhibit on Sunday, May 1, at 2:30 PM. Staff returning Monday morning, however, would arrive to the horrific sight of 25 dead flamingos.

Zoo staff would then spot the fox within the Bird House yard. Capturing it was unsuccessful, however, as the predator made a hasty exit.

A similar incident in both 2002 and 2003 saw a fox break into the National Zoo and kill more than a dozen ducks. A peacock and elderly bald eagle would also die in the attacks.

As a result, the exhibit is heartily and specifically designed to prevent predators from breaking in. Exhibit fencing is metal mesh, and “dig barriers” run the entire border to prevent burrowing the outside. Officials say the Bird House has passed all previous safety inspections. The National Zoo will still, however, be upping its security and barriers to prevent further fox break-ins.

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