A chaotic scene unfolded at the National Zoo on Monday when a zebra attack sent a bloodied worker to the hospital and frightened a gazelle so badly it galloped head-first into a barrier and broke its neck.
Zoo officials said they were investigating the cause of the attack, as well as mourning the loss of their 1-year-old male Dama gazelle named Tony.
“It’s a terrible loss for us today,” zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson said. “We’re very sad that our colleague was injured. We preach safety all the time. We have not had this kind of incident in all the years we’ve managed Grevy’s zebras. Undeniably something happened this morning, but we don’t know what.”
The incident happened at about 8:45 a.m. when the zoo staffer was bitten multiple times by Gumu, a male Grevy’s zebra.
The attack happened in an interior area of the exhibit not accessible to the public, Ms. Baker-Masson said, and for an unknown reason the keeper was in the same space as the zebra and not separated by a barrier.
The injured keeper has been working at the zoo for more than 20 years and Gumu has been with the zoo since 2007.
A keeper working in the nearby yard for the Dama gazelles heard the attack and came to help. The gazelles had been moved into the interior space of their exhibit, close to where the zebra attack occurred, Ms. Baker-Mason said.
A necropsy of the animal showed fractured vertebrae, “which tells us he was likely spooked by the incident and ran into a barrier,” zoo officials said.
Both Dama gazelles and Grevy’s zebras are on the endangered species list.