Door mishap killed giant rodent at Calgary Zoo

A Calgary Zoo staffer has been suspended for two days without pay after causing the death of an exotic rodent.
Two capybaras arrived at the Calgary Zoo in July. ((CBC))

A Calgary Zoo staffer has been suspended for two days without pay after causing the death of an exotic rodent.

The female capybara was crushed in a hydraulic door and suffered fatal injuries while being moved from one enclosure to another, said Cathy Gaviller, director of conservation, education and research.

The worker, who has been at the zoo for more than five years, did not follow long-standing procedure in operating the door, she said Friday, announcing the results of an internal investigation.

"The combination of not following those long-established and successful protocols and human error were the cause of the capybara being injured by the door," Gaviller said.

After the suspension, the unnamed staffer will be assigned to non-animal care duties. If the worker returns to caring for animals, it would only be after a period of retraining and after passing a subsequent assessment, she added.

The animal, named Adali, died last Saturday.

A capybara is the world's largest rodent with slightly webbed feet and no tail. The animal, native to South America, can reach up to 64 kilograms, or 140 pounds, in weight.

Adali, which means "Noble," arrived at the Calgary Zoo on July 9 from the Buffalo Zoo in New York with a male capybara named Pakhi to be part of a new display. Both were about a year old.

Zoo officials said they will try to acquire another capybara as soon as they can to keep Pakhi company.

Calls for external probe

Animal rights groups have questioned the zoo's practices after the deaths of other animals in the past few years, including a baby elephant, a hippo, a wild goat, four gorillas and more than 40 stingrays at the facility.

Zoocheck Canada and the Calgary Animal Rights Coalition called for an external probe of the zoo.

But Gaviller on Friday defended the zoo's work.

"The Calgary Zoo accomplishes a lot of great conservation work. Earlier this week we talked about a baby giraffe that was born and the great success there," she said.

She said no investigation is needed because the zoo has to meet standards set by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to maintain its accreditation.

Jane Stoneman McNichol, a public relations professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said the animal deaths create questions for the public.

"If we hear this phrase over and over again, that it's a series of unfortunate incidents, the perception is that this happens a lot. And reputation is about perception as much as it is about reality," she said.