Thursday, August 31, 2006

Niabi beats PETA to punch: Zoo requested investigation in wolf’s death

By Kurt Allemeier, kallemeier@qconline.com

A request for an investigation into the death of an escaped Niabi Zoo wolf made by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is a day late, the zoo's director said Wednesday.

Onya, a 7-year-old gray wolf, was shot and killed by a Rock Island County sheriff's deputy early Saturday morning about a mile west of the zoo, after escaping from its enclosure, eluding searchers for a day and a half, and getting past Niabi's perimeter fence.

On Monday, zoo director Tom Stalf contacted the U.S. Department of Agriculture and also the American Zoological Association about the wolf's death. A USDA inspector visited the zoo Tuesday and a report on the incident is expected as early as today.

"We are a pro-active zoo," Mr. Stalf said, "not reactive."

PETA sent out a press release dated Wednesday calling for an investigation by the USDA.

"When animals like Onya — who have been denied their basic needs — see an opportunity to escape their dreary lives, they often take it," Debbie Leahy, PETA director, said in a release. "The zoo didn't do its job and Onya wound up paying with her life."

The release also notes the death of a lion cub at the zoo in September 2005 that was also investigated by the USDA.

Mr. Stalf thinks PETA undermines the importance of zoos in education, conservation, research, and recreation.

"We have animals in captivity so we can learn how to protect wild animals in wild places," he said. "PETA doesn't believe in that, and it is unfortunate."

The USDA inspection following the wolf's death included an examination of the perimeter fence surrounding 70 acres of zoo property. Zoo employees have been unable to find where the wolf got off zoo property, and the USDA inspector was unable to locate an escape path either, Mr. Stalf said.

A fence contractor has been hired to do some general repair to the perimeter fence, but no significant holes that could allow an animal to escape are evident, Mr. Stalf said.

Mr. Stalf has made it known to other zoos that Onya's companion, Nanook, is available. The zoo director has said he won't reopen the exhibit as it is.

Both wolves were discovered missing Aug. 24, and officials kept the zoo closed the following day as employees searched for them. Nanook was captured the morning of Aug. 25. He also escaped from the exhibit in March 2000.

The exhibit is popular and the wolves have been popular as part of Naibi's "adopt an animal" program. Mr. Stalf has scheduled a meeting with contractors to discuss changes in the exhibit. Possible changes include expanding the enclosure and adding a foundation that will not allow the wolves to dig under the fence.

  • Quad Cities Online
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