A young capybara died at the Calgary Zoo last Saturday after it was pinned in a door, a prominent watchdog alleges.
The Calgary Zoo, however, is releasing little information on the large rodent's death - the latest in a string of animal fatalities at the facility. The zoo said in a statement that it is investigating and that "human error may have been a factor" in the "very unfortunate" death.
"The individual involved was immediately reassigned to non-animal care duties pending the results of the investigation," read the statement from Cathy Gaviller, director of conservation, education and research at the zoo.
Citing a tip from an anonymous whistleblower, CTV Calgary reported that a large gate crushed the animal. The station said the zoo made the death public after questions from CTV. Watchdog organization Zoocheck Canada told The Globe it had received an anonymous tip with the same information. Asked last night in a telephone interview whether the animal was crushed in a door, Ms. Gaviller refused to confirm or deny the report.
"I'm sure you can appreciate, until we can complete our investigation, we really can't divulge any more details," Ms. Gaviller said. She added that more information would be released next week."I can't confirm anything at this point because all of that is part of the investigation," zoo spokeswoman Laurie Herron said when asked whether the animal was crushed.
The capybaras were introduced to the zoo's South America pavilion four months ago. The zoo is now left with one capybara, a male named Pakhi, in its permanent exhibit. They are the largest rodents in the world, about the size of a dog, and typically have a life expectancy of eight to 10 years. The animal that died was an 18-month-old female who has been identified as Adali.
In the statement, Ms. Gaviller said the internal investigation will include discussions with several people at the zoo.
"If human error is proven to have been a factor, appropriate action, including potential disciplinary measures, will be taken." she said in the statement.
Adali's death is the latest in a string of incidents and deaths at the Calgary Zoo. In July, a zookeeper accidentally left a knife in the gorilla compound, and the zoo was left red-faced when photos of a gorilla holding the weapon surfaced. Earlier this year, the zoo admitted that "human error" was responsible for the death of 41 sting rays in spring, 2008. It later decided to close the exhibit.
In January, a rare goat known as a Turkmenian markhor died after hanging itself on a rope meant to be a toy that was left in its enclosure. A 15-month-old elephant died last year of a form of herpes, while a hippo died in 2007 only a day after arriving from a Denver zoo. Four gorillas died or were put down in a span of 12 months in 2006 and 2007. The zoo has denied there is any link between the deaths.
The capybara's death only strengthens the need for a full external investigation of the zoo, said Julie Woodyer, Zoocheck's campaigns director.
"Incident after incident after incident, there's some serious problem there." It's either lack of training, lack of supervision - something is seriously wrong, and somebody needs to figure out what it is. And the animals keep dying," she said in an interview.
"What they really need is to bring in an independent audit... I have never seen the number of incidents being so high at any zoo in Canada."
With a report from Dawn Walton