Hold Hershey’s ZooAmerica Accountable

COMMENTARY | Central Pennsylvania was recently hit hard by Tropical Storm Lee. The valley was inundated with rain and flash floods occurred over many low-lying areas. People died, homes were damaged and ruined and crops were wiped out. Hershey’s ZooAmerica experienced a tragedy of its own when the workers, staff and officials failed to make sure all animals were out of harm’s way in time.

The zoo knew about the impending storm and potential flooding two days before the flash floods. The Patriot-News reports the water started rising Sept. 7 around 9 a.m. Ester and Ryan, the resident bison that had been raised by staff since birth, were in a sloped enclosure. At around 4 p.m., the water had risen too much and staff members were unable to reach the siblings. Esther, who was 15 years old, drowned. In an effort to save Ryan, who was 13, from a similar fate, staff members shot him. These were the zoo’s only bison.

Though officials at the zoo repeatedly said the bison were the only casualties of the flood, there were potentially nine other animals lost. The prairie dog community was never officially and thoroughly counted, but it was estimated to contain 18 members. Only nine have been spotted since the flood. Since prairie dogs bury their dead members, and the true number of prairie dogs was never known, the real death toll will likely never be known.

As a resident of central Pennsylvania who has previously been to ZooAmerica, I find this disturbing. I don’t think I could ever bring myself to visit the zoo again knowing what happened. The zoo should have had plans in place and protected its animals better. Staff and officials have a duty to protect and care for the animals they keep; in this case, they failed.

An apology to the public and sincere regrets are not enough. A thorough, and independent, review of the zoo and policies needs to be done. This cannot be done before the zoo reopens. Officials hope to have it reopened by this weekend.

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