National Zoo Blames Budget Cuts for Animal Deaths

PHOTO: A Przewalskis colt foal is shown at the Highland Wildlife Park in Kingussie, Scotland, in this Sept. 9, 2013 photo.
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The Congressional committee that oversees the National Zoo said today it will look into the zoo's accusation that budget cuts have so severely affected their operations that three animals have died this year under its care.

The staffers made their comments a day after the zoo announced that an endangered 5-month-old colt had died suddenly at the zoo's Conservation Biology Institute in Virginia on Wednesday. Preliminary reports found the colt died of a fractured neck.

The colt's death was the latest in a string of problems at the zoo, including the deaths of a red river hog, an antelope, and a gazelle this year, as well as a vulture that escaped its enclosure.

Following the announcement of the colt's death, National Zoo Director Dennis Kelly made comments saying that budgetary woes had led the staff to become "spread too thin," according to the Washington Post.

"The core issue is the stress that being more thinly staffed and (budget) uncertainty puts on the team," Kelly told the Associated Press, which noted the zoo's budget has been slashed by about $2 million by Congress since 2010.

"As much as the budget has declined, it's the budget uncertainty. It's hard to plan when you don't know what your budget is going to be," he said.

Kelly could not be reached for an interview by ABC News today.

Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich), the chair of the Committee on House Administration which oversees the zoo, said she was looking into the zoo's reports on the death but pointed out that Kelly said in February, ahead of the sequestration cuts, that animal care would not be affected by budget cuts.

Kelly said at the time that the budget woes were already difficult before sequestration.

"We're to the bone," Kelly told the Washington Post in February, ahead of sequestration taking effect. "I will never compromise on animal welfare or human safety, but we're now at the point where we'd have to lop off a whole module."

Rep. Robert Brady, the ranking Democrat of the CHA, said he scheduled a briefing with Smithsonian officials to learn more about the quality of care at the zoo after the recent deaths.

"He wants to hear specifically how budget cuts could have led to this situation, and will offer additional comment after those discussions," Brady's spokesman, Gregory Abbott, said today.

"Mr. Brady has always supported strong funding levels for the Smithsonian, including the zoo, and has opposed sequester budget cuts," Abbott said. "He also supports strong oversight of animal healthcare issues to prevent any reoccurrences."

The zoo also released on Wednesday its response to an audit conducted by the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee earlier this year. The audit, which set out to review the zoo's practices in the wake of the deaths, recommended some improvements to the zoo's practices and to its cheetah enclosure.

The zoo outlined some solutions it would undertake to address the problems.

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