Sunday, November 08, 2009

Deer jumps into Lions den at National Zoo

At zoo, no escape to safety for deer in the lions' den

By Martin Weil
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, November 9, 2009

A young deer that jumped a wall at the National Zoo was fatally injured by two lions Sunday as dozens of startled spectators looked on.

The incident, which zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson described as highly unusual, occurred about 2:50 p.m. as zoo visitors lined the perimeter wall of an enclosure that contained two female lions.

At some point after jumping into the enclosure, the deer broke free from one of the two lions and bounded into a moat, as the spectators cheered, according to zoo visitor Josh Shpayher.

"Everyone was cheering, 'Go, go, go' " to encourage the deer to reach safety, Shpayher said.

"Everyone was rooting for the deer," which began swimming in the leaf-strewn waters of the moat, as the two restlessly pacing lions stared from the moat's edge.

Alerted to the incident, zoo personnel sent visitors away and brought the lions indoors. With the enclosure empty, the deer left the moat on its own. It was anesthetized and taken for evaluation by specialists.

They found it "pretty evident" that the deer "would not survive," and it was euthanized, Baker-Masson said.

Shpayher said that when he approached the lion enclosure, the crowd there was swelling to at least 100 people.

When he asked what was happening, he said a woman told him that "a deer jumped in and the lions got him."

Video footage taken by a visitor begins with the deer on the ground, under a lion's paw. It then shows the deer breaking free and bounding toward the moat with no obvious wounds.

However, Baker-Masson said an examination indicated that in addition to head and neck scratches, the deer, a female, had a serious wound on its belly.

Many deer live in Rock Creek Park, where the zoo is located, and many have been spotted on the zoo grounds.

Staff writer Amy Argetsinger contributed to this report.

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