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Posted at 2:22 PM ET, 11/ 9/2009

The lost educational opportunity at the zoo

By Valerie Strauss

There are two possibilities for why the National Zoo decided not to allow the public to watch two lions do with a misguided deer what lions do with weaker animals. Either they were worried about a lawsuit of some sort. Or they forgot that kids watch nature in its sometimes gruesome glory on Animal Planet and Discovery all the time.

You may have read today's Post storyabout a deer that jumped over a wall at the National Zoo and unfortunately landed in an enclosure with two female lions. For up to 20 minutes yesterday the deer tried to get away as a crowd of zoo-goers gathered to watch, with some of the onlookers screaming and crying.

Finally zoo personnel came (why did it take so long?), got rid of the spectators, sequestered the lions and euthanized the injured deer.

I suppose there are many who would complain that allowing the lions to rip apart the deer would have been cruel to not only the deer but to young kids watching.

I disagree. Parents who didn’t want their kids watching didn’t have to keep them there. And perhaps BECAUSE zoos are by creation animal environments that are aimed at educating humans about the animal world, it makes complete sense that the lions should be able to follow their own instincts to their logical conclusion. The deer was meat in either case.

In fact, it seems to me those lions were teased. And a great educational experience was lost. Now THAT’s cruel.

By Valerie Strauss  | November 9, 2009; 2:22 PM ET
Tags:  National Zoo  
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Personally, when I hear the words "teachable moment", I reach for my sidearm. However, I agree generally with Ms. Strauss. The removal of the deer should only have been done if it was for the lions' benefit, not for the deer. Anyone who has ever hit a deer on a country road or looked with chagrin on the remains of a prize plant will cheer the lions. And there are too many deer; suburban environments have created too much habitat suitable to deer. In the 19th century, deer were very rare.

Posted by: ggreenbaum | November 9, 2009 2:54 PM | Report abuse

I agree in principle that nature should follow it's natural rhythms, but think the Zoos larger concern was that their expensive and hard to get lions would contract some parasite or virus from the wild deer. I suspect this has more to do with their "censure" of the cycle of life than anything else.

Posted by: GJinVA | November 9, 2009 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Well, certainly seeing a lion take down a deer would be an exciting surprise for the kids but if I was the person responsible for the lions I would have done the same. Those lions don't eat just any random, diseased meat that the zoo can find. There also is a legitimate fear that a terrified deer could get out the same way it got in and hurt a visitor.

Now, if the zoo wants to start releasing into the lion enclosure captured deer that have been screened for disease, well we might have something here.

Posted by: KS100H | November 9, 2009 3:30 PM | Report abuse

I was surprised the lions didn't go into the water to get the deer. It seems like that was more excitement than they'd had in awhile.

It was probably just as well there wasn't a lot of blood and carnage. While you might see that on Safari or Animal Planet it's not what most are expecting with a zoo visit.

Imagine the smell if they'd torn that deer up in the water. It'd been a big mess.

Posted by: RedBird27 | November 9, 2009 4:08 PM | Report abuse

This article begins "There are two possibilities for why the National Zoo decided not to allow the public to watch two lions do with a misguided deer what lions do with weaker animals."

The author does not have any idea whether those are in fact the only possible reasons. A moment's thought would lead a reasonably smart person to realize that there are other possible reasons, some of which have been mentioned by other commentors already.

The Post can surely do better than this.

Posted by: sam44 | November 9, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Folks, lions would not contract any deadly parasites or viruses from eating a wild deer. Predators have a remarkable ability to cope with such things in their very digestive tracts. I suspect the zoo had other reason, primarily that area residents are not able to cope with the true nature of nature right before their very eyes. We've become too Disney-fied to be able to stand watching an "innocent" deer get ripped to shreds by predators. Too bad; it would have been a remarkable opportunity for people to see nature in the raw.

Posted by: writewise | November 9, 2009 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Well, we've got a solution to the deer overpopulation problem in Rock Creek Park . . . feed 'em to the lions.

Posted by: ah___ | November 9, 2009 5:32 PM | Report abuse

I have no expectation that the bellies of these African beasts would be evolved for the parasites of an urban stray in North America. Watching the video, I got to thinking that lions in zoos are a probably a little rusty in their predatory skills and that they probably aren't allowed to get too hungry.

Posted by: KS100H | November 9, 2009 5:37 PM | Report abuse

If those lions wanted to eat the fawn, they would have eaten it. Look at the video. They were just playing with the thing. Just like if a cat sees a mouse; sure the cat will kill the mouse, but, the cat would play with it for a while like a toy before it finally killed. Then it would bring it home to you as a present.

Posted by: BigBubba1 | November 9, 2009 5:45 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and there are more than 2 reasons why they may have let the fawn out. Perhaps, the park people just felt sorry for the fawn. Wouldn't most of you do the same thing?

I wouldn't; but that's just me. I love to watch a good mauling.

Posted by: BigBubba1 | November 9, 2009 5:48 PM | Report abuse

Here's the teachable moment: this animal story has gotten more press than all the PEOPLE killed in our wars today.

Explain that to your kids.

Posted by: DupontJay | November 9, 2009 6:20 PM | Report abuse

This is not the first time a deer has found itself on the short end of the circle of life. A few years ago, the keepers came to work and the cheetahs had gotten a "midnight snack" like that. It was explained to me that the keepers are concerned about the cats contracting a virus or a parasite from the prey, and that the keepers are concerned that if they allow a predator/prey drama like this to reach its natural conclusions, the predatory behavior is not something the keepers want to encourage, as it makes the animals more aggressive and harder for the keepers to handle. And, after all, aren't we just soft, pink and a little crunchy?

Posted by: MajorConfusion | November 9, 2009 7:32 PM | Report abuse

i saw the "hunt" on youtube. it looked like the lions could use the teaching opportunity more than anyone else. they failed at hunting

Posted by: j762 | November 9, 2009 8:04 PM | Report abuse

If I hear that overused phrase "Teachable Moment" again I may just jump in the Lion cage.

Posted by: mdsinc | November 9, 2009 10:32 PM | Report abuse

If I hear that overused phrase "Teachable Moment" again I may just jump in the Lion cage.

Posted by: mdsinc

That would, without a doubt, be a teachable moment.

Posted by: BigBubba1 | November 9, 2009 10:57 PM | Report abuse

Nat Geo occurring live in front of kids how is that not a great lesson on nature, the food chain and most importantly why not to jump into lion dens. Kids watch way more gruesome stuff in today's horror movies. We are so far removed from the fact that food comes from animals! We eat tear gnaw gnash stab and rip animals and eat them. We just make them all pretty first so we don't know they can from real breathing creatures. Unfortunately animals have no Whole Foods to go and pick up their food and have to do it the messy way. People screaming and crying? Really grow up!

Posted by: lucl74 | November 10, 2009 11:49 AM | Report abuse

I've always heard that with cats the stalk is instinctive but the kill must be taught. Not surprisingly, these lions have probably not actually killed anything before so they weren't particularly adept at the killing part. But the movement certainly triggered the stalking behavior and they were apparently pretty good at that. So to avoid having the lions "play" with the deer until they accidentally killed it (which could have taken awhile), I think the zoo officials did the right thing by getting it out. Now why it took them 20 minutes to get there is anyone's guess.

Posted by: fairfax_gal | November 10, 2009 11:57 AM | Report abuse

" makes complete sense that the lions should be able to follow their own instincts to their logical conclusion."

Following this line of reasoning to it's logical conclusion, if a child fell into the lion enclosure, we should still let the "two lions do with a misguided child what lions do with weaker animals."

What a bunch of self-righteous tripe. The zoo staff acted appropriately.

Posted by: distance88 | November 10, 2009 1:38 PM | Report abuse

I'm glad they didn't let the lions eat the deer. Not only was 20-30 minutes an eternity for a panicked deer (in the wild, a lion would most likely get 20-30 seconds to bring down its prey before the prey bounded away across the plains), but what if the deer carried parasites that would have made the lions sick? The Zoo personnel did the right thing.

Posted by: dcn8v | November 10, 2009 4:16 PM | Report abuse

Didn't Congress pass a law banning the distribution of videos depicting animal cruelty?

Cool! Now the WaPo, YouTube, and the original videographer are vulnerable to Federal felony charges under that ridiculous law.

There's your teachable moment: "Land of the Free" is now just an empty motto.

Posted by: DupontJay | November 10, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

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