Dogs blamed in Alabama zoo attack that killed 5 emus, one deer
Dogs, both domesticated and stray, are credited with the attacks on zoo animals. The zoo is seeking compensation should the owners be identified.
Wed, Nov 09, 2011 at 05:20 PM
Photo: The Mobile Zoo
MOBILE, Ala - A pack of dogs is being blamed for slaughtering five emus and a deer at the Mobile Zoo since Nov. 7.
John Hightower, the nonprofit zoo's director, said he and his staff originally suspected coyotes were targeting the animals, but that changed Tuesday morning when he found at least five dogs inside a bird pen.
Hightower, who shot and killed two of the dogs as they circled him, said it was the first time in the facility's 19-year history his animals have been terrorized in this fashion.
"I really thought I wounded a few more (of the dogs), but we looked and couldn't find any that'd been hit," he said on Wednesday. "It was just awful. They're doing it for sport and just leaving (the zoo animals) for dead."
Animal control officials removed another five dogs from the 40-acre zoo property about two miles east of the Mississippi line late Tuesday afternoon. Zookeeper Lacey Clark said zoo personnel counted as many as 15 dogs in the pack at one time.
The damage to the pens in a rural area outside of Wilmer, Alabama, has been considerable, Hightower said.
"It's like nothing I've ever seen — how hard they worked to get in those pens. They were pulling the wire fencing and tearing at it. It's the kind of thing you see with an animal trying to get out, not with one trying to get in," he said.
Hightower said he believed trouble began with a few stray dogs prowling the area, but neighboring pets left free to roam soon joined the fray.
"We're not talking about scraggly strays. These were well-fed, healthy dogs, and you could tell they were just doing it for fun," he said.
"It scares the heck out of me to think if there'd been a kid — or anybody — around by themselves when those dogs came up. I'm not sure what would've happened."
Nancy Johnson, a spokeswoman for Mobile County, said dog pack attacks are actually quite common in the area.
"The issue is that these dogs, like horses, are social animals. They move in packs, and it's instinctive behavior. You have the alpha dogs, and the rest follow. The problem is when the alphas turn aggressive," she said.
Some of the emus killed were nearly 20 years old, but Hightower said their life span averages 70 years. A white-tail, 12-point buck named Pointer was a favorite among visitors.
"(Pointer) was just the sweetest thing. He loved to come up and lick your hands, and the kids really liked getting to feed him. It's just a terrible loss," Hightower said.
No arrests have been made in connection with the attacks. Hightower said the zoo will seek compensation from any of the dogs' owners who are identified.
"Money's not going to bring any of these animals back, but if we can find out who any of these dogs belong to they're going to have to pay up," he said.
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jerry Norton)
Copyright 2011 Reuters U.S. Online Report Domestic News