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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

From the News: Free Day at Kansas City Zoo ends in violence

Emergency preparedness is one of the most important aspects of zoo and aquarium management.  We drill for animals escapes and injuries.  We drill for natural disasters.  But how often do we run drills to account for the most dangerous, unpredictable aspect of our facilities - the public?

Wild animals tend to be fairly predictable.  An escaped animal usually wants to return to its enclosure.  If it doesn't, it will likely go for cover or a safe-seeming location.  Hurricanes and earthquakes have natural laws that they must obey.  In either scenario, there is a certain prevalent logic.  This logic is absent with the general public.  Ninety-nine point nine percent of the public will behave.  The remainder can do some stupid things, including harming animals, putting themselves in harms way, or harming other visitors.

As satisfying as it might be to watch what happens to the stupid visitor who hops two fences to get closer to the jaguar for a photo op (ignoring that the jaguar can, in fact, reach out through the bars of its enclosure), we have a responsibility to protect our visitors.  Even the stupid ones.  Even from themselves.  Actually, especially protect the stupid ones from themselves.

I doubt that the good folks at KC Zoo predicted that this sort of fiasco was going to happen, but it seems that they handled it as best as they could.  No animals were injured or affected.  According to visitors and other witnesses, zoo staff behaved in an effective, professional manner, getting guests to safety.  I'm sure they hope that they never have to deal with a mess like this again, but in a way, we should all be grateful for the lesson they provided.

Emergency planning at the zoo needs to involve more than just animal escapes and fire drills.  It needs to factor in the human element.

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