Staff at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute are devastated and mourning the loss of 25 American flamingos and one Northern pintail duck killed by a wild fox yesterday in the Zoo’s outdoor flamingo habitat. Three additional flamingos were injured and are being treated at the Zoo’s veterinary hospital.
In the early morning of May 2, Bird House staff arrived to discover the deceased flamingos and sighted a fox in the Zoo’s outdoor flamingo yards. The fox escaped the yard. The flock originally had 74 flamingos. The remaining flamingos were moved indoors to their barn and the ducks to a covered, secure outdoor space.
“This is a heartbreaking loss for us and everyone who cares about our animals,” said Brandie Smith, John and Adrienne Mars Director, Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. “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.”
As part of regular facility safety procedures, exhibit-integrity inspections are conducted multiple times a day by staff. The last inspection of the outdoor yards surrounding the Bird House was conducted May 1 at 2:30 p.m. No areas of concern were observed at the flamingo habitat. An inspection conducted the morning of May 2 revealed:
- A new softball-sized hole in the heavy-duty metal mesh that surrounds the outdoor yard.
- There was no breach to the dig barrier in the outdoor exhibit.
- The Zoo is actively investigating the incident and has taken the following immediate actions:
- Metal mesh surrounding the flamingo yard has been reinforced. It was last replaced in 2017 and passed an accreditation inspection by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
- Live traps have been set around the outdoor yard to catch any predators.
- Digital camera traps with an infrared sensor triggered by movement have been set up to photograph overnight activity.
The Zoo’s Bird House and surrounding plateau are undergoing a major renovation and are closed to the public. The Zoo’s flamingo flock lives primarily outdoors in a 9,750-square-foot yard with a heated pool and barn. The flamingo exhibit has been at the Zoo since the 1970s as currently designed and this is the first predator mesh breach.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species lists both the American flamingo and Northern pintail duck as species of least concern. American, or Caribbean, flamingos are distributed throughout the Caribbean Islands and along the northern coast of South America and have a lifespan of about 40–60 years. While flamingos are an abundant bird species, they are threatened by habitat loss due to mineral mining and human disturbance. About 80,000–90,000 American flamingos, concentrated in four major breeding colonies, remain in the wild.