June 9th, 2011


Sad day at the zoo

I finally get my butt back here to LJ, and plan to start posting semi-regular like again and this happens...
I was planning to do a post pimping the books that my friends have just done, but instead my mind is on wolves.

One of the Mexican Grey Wolves at the Minnesota Zoo escaped from its holding enclosure today and the zoo staff had to make the difficult decision to use lethal force.

I first heard about it and read the Star Tribune story at around noon. At that point the only news was that a wolf had gotten out, a zoo visiter had seen it and been the one to call zoo staff on one of the zoo's emergency phones, and the wolf was shot shortly thereafter. Immediately the comments on the article were full of indignant people demanding to know why the wolf was shot instead of tranquilized, and also saying that they will never support or go to the zoo again because they obviously don't know how to take care of or treat their animals.

Someday I will learn never to read the comments to news articles because they always just piss me off!

My heart breaks and goes out to the MN Zoo staff member that had to take the shot. People work at zoos because they love animals and want to protect them. Having to kill the animal you're supposed to protect is an awful thing.

Because the information was still coming in, the early stories just didn't have all the details. Yet, my position has not wavered one single bit between when I first heard what happened and now that I know more of the story.

If the Zoo staff made the decision that lethal force was needed, it was an informed decision made based on their knowledge, training, and desire for safety above all else. Period.

Commenters on the STrib site and even Facebook "fans" of the zoo seemed to think they knew better what should have been done. People who weren't there, who don't work daily with the animals, who don't go through training & drills at least twice a year for this very situation. Yes, those people all knew better.

Note: The Minnesota Zoo, in addition to the Mexican Grey Wolves on the Northern Trail also has some Grey Wolves on the Minnesota Trail. When I talk about the care & keeping of the wolves I am referring exclusively to the Mexican's & their Northern Trail exhibit.

Having been a student at the summer ZooSchool they used to have back in the late 80's, being a member and fan of the Zoo for the last 10 years or so, and having friends who have volunteered there and worked there, I have a bit broader knowledge of what goes on at the Zoo than your average person who may go once every few years. I've also attended many of the educational talks they've had for members. One of the favorites I attended was about the Mexican Grey Wolves. The very wolf that died today may well have been one of them that I saw on exhibit that night as Jackie, the zookeeper, was telling us about them. I think that is why all the ignorant comments criticizing the zoo before getting the facts have bothered me so much today.

The Mexican Grey Wolf exhibit at the zoo is different from their others in several ways. Almost all of the zoo animals have a holding enclosure behind the scenes where they are kept at night. Almost no animals are kept in their exhibit 24/7, just while the zoo is open. The wolves do not. They have a den in the exhibit and they are only removed from it for necessities such as medical checkups and care.

From a 2006 Pioneer Press article: Unlike many other animals at the zoo, the wolves on exhibit are not trained or socialized in any way.
"These wolves are completely terrified of us. They need to be," [Minnesota Zoo keeper Jackie] Fallon said. "If they have even a chance at survival in the wild they need to be afraid of humans."

The MN Zoo works with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to try to reintroduce the severely endangered Mexican Grey Wolf back into the wild. Unlike most animals born is zoos who will never live in the wild, these wolves are born with the hope that they can possibly be released.

Because of the way the wolves are raised and kept, they are one of the most unpredictable animals the zoo has. Every other animal there has regular interactions with humans. They all are used to being moved from one area to another. They associate the zookeepers with all the comforts of their life.

Tranquilizing the wolf was the zoo's first and preferred plan. Unfortunately when it jumped a second containment fence and started running in the public areas the unreliability and slowness of shooting him with a tranq was just no longer an option. When Hollywood decides to share their super accurate and instantaneous tranquilizer gun technology with the zoo, well, then we can start complaining that they chose the wrong option. But since the magic Hollywood dart doesn't really exist, it would have been foolish to try to tranq the wolf. Once he was in the public areas it was just too dangerous. You know what's more dangerous than a scared wolf? A scared wolf who's been stuck with a dart and just wants to get away.

Even with this tragic death, the Minnesota Zoo has done more to increase and help the total world population of Mexican Grey Wolves, both captive and wild, than it has done to harm them. I am damn proud of my local zoo for their quick and well trained response to today's events. Yes, I wish the wolf hadn't died. We all do. But I don't think they did the wrong thing when they shot him. They did what they had to, even though I know they didn't want to. Just think how sad it makes you to hear about the wolf dying. Now imagine if you had watched him grow up, and you had devoted your life to working with him and animals like him. I know that although shooting the wolf was the right thing to do, it was not the easy thing to do and my heart goes out to the person that had to do it.

edited to add disclaimer:
I'm not an employee of or volunteer at the Minnesota Zoo. I attended a summer school there 24 years ago, and I've been a loyal member and fan for the last 10 years or so. Any errors in this post about the zoo's procedures, their animals, or anything are mistakes on my part, not misinformation from the Zoo. And obviously, the opinions here are mine, I don't represent the MN Zoo.