Yet another animal has died at the Dallas Zoo: Ola, an 8-year-old female African painted dog who was moved to the zoo in June for breeding purposes, was killed by two other dogs with whom the zoo placed the female.
Ola was found on July 4, a victim of an attack by Jata and Mzingo, 2-year-old brothers who'd also recently been acquired by the zoo.
Ola was moved to the Dallas Zoo from Illinois on June 11. The two male dogs were shipped in from Ohio on June 14.
According to a statement by the zoo, the attack happened overnight while the zoo was closed.
"Upon reviewing the closed-circuit video feed from the area, we know that she quickly succumbed to injuries sustained during a short bout of aggressive behavior from the two male dogs," the zoo said in a statement.
"Because we hadn't done this before, we didn't know exactly what to expect," Lora Baumhardt, the zoo's carnivore supervisor, told the Dallas Morning News, which goes on to dutifully tell the zoo's story about how the staff "worked to reinforce the painted dogs' social structure," as well as repeating the usual rationale about how this is all acceptable because "fewer than 6,000 African painted dogs remain in the wild in east and south Africa."
As if this is about conservation and not selling tickets.
The zoo has seen a number of animals die under its care:
- Witten, a 1-year-old giraffe, died during a physical exam under anesthesia when he suddenly stopped breathing.
- Adhama, a baby hippopotamus, mysteriously died in 2018.
- Kipenzi, a baby giraffe, died in 2015 after running in her enclosure.
- Kamau, a young cheetah, died of pneumonia in 2014.
- Johari, a female lion, was killed in front of zoo spectators in 2013 in a similar scenario by male lions with whom she shared an enclosure.
In its Facebook post, the zoo itself acknowledges that "African painted dogs live in packs with highly complex social dynamics that can shift at any moment" and that "it's natural for younger males to test the dominant dog in the pack and to try to establish their own dominance."
"The boys did nothing wrong here, and were only exhibiting natural behavior," the zoo says.
But as some who are familiar with canine behavior point out, you can't just human-engineer a pack.
"Dominance issues are complex and expecting them to be recreated in an artificial setting like a zoo with strange members of the breed is hopelessly flawed and a recipe for disaster," says Stacy Smith, founder of Humane Tomorrow, a North Texas rescue organization.
"Isn't it time we start rethinking whether zoos are worth the suffering they impose on animals for a few minutes of entertainment?" Smith says.
The Dallas Zoo is nonetheless moving forward with its African painted dog breeding efforts.
"Mzingo and Jata did not sustain injuries and will continue to be in the habitat regularly," the zoo's statement says. "Our plan to build out the pack will move forward, and as always, we will work with the African painted dog Species Survival Plan (SSP) on recommendations and timing."
And as always, it's about the zoo: "We all loved getting to know Ola, and she will be deeply missed. Our animal care team is understandably shaken after this incident, so please send positive thoughts their way."