- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 29, 2003

ASSOCIATED PRESS
The National Zoo has begun a search for an interim curator to oversee all operations involving animal care.
The move was spurred by the death of a pygmy hippopotamus, the eighth death since September of a high-profile animal.
The zoo is awaiting test results to pinpoint the cause of death of the 9-year-old pygmy hippo. "The animal looked normal Sunday and was found dead Monday," zoo spokesman Robert Hoage said yesterday.
A post-mortem examination found pulmonary congestion and a buildup of fluid in the hippo's lungs. Mr. Hoage said it is unusual for a hippo so young to die suddenly.
The pygmy hippo, a native of West Africa that is about one-eighth the size of the better-known Nile hippopotamus, can live 40 years or longer in zoos.
The hippo's death was not related to the deaths two weeks ago of two red pandas accidentally poisoned by fumigants buried in their enclosure by an exterminator. Mr. Hoage said the panda case is still under investigation.
The latest fatalities extended a troubling series of deaths in the zoo that began in September, when a gray seal and a giraffe died in the same week. Digestive problems that killed the giraffe were similar to symptoms that killed its mate seven months earlier.
In October, a lion was found dead in its cage a day after a physical checkup. By the end of the year, zookeepers had euthanized an 8-year-old cheetah and a 24-year-old bobcat, both suffering from kidney disease.
Zoo Director Lucy Spelman decided to hire a daily operations animal care supervisor who would supervise the eight assistant curators, Mr. Hoage said. "She wants very much to get to the bottom of this and make sure this never happens again," Mr. Hoage said.
Zoo officials said that with about 3,100 animals at the park, some are born and some die every day.
"What's different in the past year is that it's a high number of profile animals," Mr. Hoage said.
He said the pygmy hippo was the last remaining from a breeding program the zoo started in 1927. There are no plans to replace it.


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