Expert Report

Animal Care and Management at the National Zoo: Interim Report (2004)

Each report is produced by a committee of experts selected by the Academy to address a particular statement of task and is subject to a rigorous, independent peer review; while the reports represent views of the committee, they also are endorsed by the Academy. Learn more on our expert consensus reports.

The report finds that there are shortcomings in care and management at the Smithsonian Institution's National Zoological Park are threatening the well-being of the animal collection. The committee said that its initial findings address the "most pressing" issues and that it used some of the highly publicized deaths of larger animals at the zoo to illustrate deficiencies in animal care and management.

Key Messages

  • Even though the pest management program has been reorganized and is showing signs of improvement, pest management remains inadequate and poses a potential threat to the animal collection employees, and visitors to the National Zoo.
  • Shortcomings exist in the animal nutrition program. There has been inadequate communication between the nutrition, keeper, and veterinary staffs; poor consultation between the research nutritionist and the acting head of clinical nutrition; and a lack of standardization and regular evaluation of animal diets. Nutrition records are not currently integrated with other record-keeping systems and, despite having adequate facilities for over a decade, the National Zoo is only now beginning to move toward a centralized commissary.
  • The National Zoo is operating without a strategic plan, which jeopardizes its long-term operations and focused use of the zoo's resources. An integrated plan for the entire institution incorporating the 10-year facility revitalization and animal collections plans has not been developed.
  • The National Zoological Park lacks a comprehensive information management system for animal husbandry and management records, which results in inconsistent record keeping and practices of alteration in medical records weeks or years after events
  • The current preventive medicine program at the National Zoo is not being fully implemented, and since 1998, veterinary staff members have not been adhering to this program in terms of providing annual exams, vaccinations, and infectious-disease testing. Although efforts have been made in the past year to improve implementation, there is still a backlog of animals that have not received examinations, vaccinations, or tests as prescribed by the preventive medicine program
  • There has been poor adherence to the National Zoo's own policies and procedures for animal health and welfare.
  • There is a lack of documentation that the welfare of animals has been appropriately considered during the development and implementation of research programs and that complaints regarding the welfare of animals on exhibit were appropriately investigated. There also has been a lack of understanding within the National Zoo and the Smithsonian Institution of the requirements of federal regulations and Public Health Service Policy and how to maintain compliance.