Federal officials could investigate Brookfield Zoo

Catherine Leyden

Brookfield Zoo is waiting to hear from federal officials on whether they will conduct an investigation into the third unexpected death of a zoo animal in less than six months.

Zoo officials have contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture — the federal agency that oversees zoo operations — about the death of an 11-year-old giraffe found dead of a broken neck Saturday.

The giraffe, named Dusti, was killed after becoming tangled in a rope. The rope is part of a pulley system used to hoist food for the giraffes into the air.

Kim Smith, vice president of Animal Care for the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, said the pulley system has been removed and zoo staff are trying to figure out how Dusti got caught in the rope.

“We still don’t understand how he was physically able to do this,” Smith said.

Smith said Dusti, who was 17 feet tall, reached his neck over his enclosure door, around a 90-degree corner and across 6 1/2 feet into a keeper corridor where the rope was fastened flat against the wall with safety clips.

Smith said broken pieces of those clips were found on the ground of the corridor.

“I would say this is one of those things you deal with in the home with children and pets. We felt we had taken precautions to keep a giraffe safe and he went into an area we didn’t think he could,” Smith said. “I think animals, just like children, teach us every day more and more about what they could do that we didn’t expect.”

Smith said the zoo has nightkeepers and “basically operates on a 24-hour shift.” At 4:30 a.m. Saturday a keeper checked on Dusti, who was doing fine inside his nighttime enclosure.

At 7 a.m. one of the Dusti’s zookeepers found him unresponsive in Habitat Africa! The Savannah.

“We will learn and move on,” Smith said.

Dusti was considered a favorite in the zoo, and his keepers especially are devastated by the loss.

“He was a very friendly, wonderful animal. (Dusti was) very interactive with the staff. ... He was a lot of fun to be around and very inquisitive,” Smith said.

Last weekend, Micco, a 6-year-old Atlantic bottlenose dolphin, died at Brookfield Zoo of an infection in his trachea. Smith said the infection is rare for dolphins in captivity.

And last fall, a 4-month-old tiger cub died following an attack by his father, who was kept in an adjoining enclosure.

A USDA inspector determined the bars of the separating grate were too far apart allowing the cub to stick his paw into his father’s enclosure, prompting an attack.

Dusti was hand-reared at Florida’s Busch Gardens. He arrived at Brookfield Zoo in 1998 and had three offspring including 1-year-old female Arnieta.

Along with Arnieta the three other female giraffe’s are Jasiri, 2; Franny, 16; and Mithra, 17.

Smith said zoo’s typically keep only one male giraffe at a time and it will begin the process of finding a new male giraffe.

Sondra Katzen, a spokeswoman for the zoo, said visitors can make sympathy cards at the Play Zoo’s workshop area through Sunday that will be given to Dusti’s keepers.

Chicago Suburban