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Henry Vilas Zoo citation upgraded to Official Warning

Capybaras are a cavy native to South America. Photo credit: Jaime Dantas via Unsplash.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has upgraded a citation at the Henry Vilas Zoo in Madison, Wisconsin, to an Official Warning after a capybara died due to an injury sustained from jumping into an empty pool while sedated.

Henry Vilas Zoo is accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), an organization that sets standards for animal care and welfare at member zoos.

In April, the Wisconsin State Journal published an article about the Henry Vilas Zoo outlining alarming issues, some of which resulted in the death of zoo animals. Read more here.

Among the complaints was that a capybara named Shrek jumped into a drained pool while he was sedated, breaking one of his legs.

The USDA conducted an inspection May 26 and cited Henry Vilas Zoo with a critical violation for the incident involving the capybara. The USDA inspector wrote that after the capybara received an injection the animal reacted by running toward staff and jumping into an empty exhibit pool before anyone could capture it.

“An accident during the handling of a male capybara resulted with a fracture to the animal’s leg,” the inspector wrote. The capybara died due to the incident.

Henry Vilas Zoo was also cited with a non critical violation for sanitation due to the repeated pest control issues the zoo experiences from raccoons. Four raccoons were spotted inside the capybara enclosure in a three week timespan and the male capybara sustained injuries from interactions with the raccoons that required veterinary consultation, according to the inspection report.

In June, the Dane County Board approved a proposal to pay up to $50,000 for a retired judge to conduct an independent investigation into former employees' claims of racism, animal mistreatment and neglect at Henry Vilas Zoo. The investigation report is due later this year.


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