Zoo Kills Wolf that Nipped Child In Employees-Only Area

The Menominee Park Zoo in Oshkosh, Wisconsin killed a wolf that nipped an unidentified child in late May. The child slipped its fingers into the wolf enclosure in an area off-limits to visitors.

The child suffered only minor puncture wounds to two fingers, yet Winnebago County Health Department and Wisconsin Division of Public Health regulations required the zoo to euthanize the wolf, an alpha male named Rebel, to test samples of his brain for rabies.

The parents refused to let their child undergo a series of painful rabies shots, though it would have spared the wolf’s life. Rebel’s test results came back negative.

(Wolves about to be fed, filmed from the Menominee Park Zoo visitors’ viewing area.)

According to a later report, a zoo employee inadvertently left a gate open. The parents took their child into the restricted area along with a throng of other visitors. The mother was taking photographs when she was informed of the incident.

Rebel was one of four adult wolves, all of them around 12 years-old, introduced last autumn after zoo authorities euthanized an earlier wolf pack for health and age-related concerns. The other new wolves are named Sienna, Thunder and Echo. Rebel was the dominant alpha male. Zoo officials say they will not replace Rebel since the pack would never accept a new wolf.

Grey wolf.

Grey wolf.

“I purposely donate for these wolves, and to me, it’s like taking my donation and throwing it away,” said Ronya Dehn. She visits the zoo two or three times a week and has donated money to its wolf exhibit. “I felt like my donations went to waste through human error. Everybody makes mistakes, but this was (a lack of) common sense.”

Ray Maurer, Oshkosh City Parks Director, called the incident unfortunate, the first of its kind in at least six years. “There is no other way to test for rabies,” he said. Rabies incubation periods are largely unknown for wild animals. Maurer witheld the child’s age and gender, citing federal privacy laws.

Rebel’s euthanization comes in the wake of public outrage at a similar incident in the Cincinnati Zoo recently. The zoo shot Harambe, a rare male gorilla, when a toddler fell into his exhibit.

The Menominee Park Zoo does not meet the accreditation standards of the prestigious AZA. The Cincinatti Zoo is a member. Its shooting of Harambe the gorilla sparked widespread outrage.

The Menominee Park Zoo does not meet the accreditation standards of the prestigious AZA. The Cincinnati Zoo is a member. Its shooting of Harambe the gorilla has sparked widespread outrage.

Zoos can minimize the potential for such tragedies, but all agree they will continue as long as wild animals are on public display. Many activists say zoos are no longer needed for their traditional entertainment and educational roles. The Landmark Entertainment Group, of Jurrasic Park fame, is set to open a cutting-edge virtual zoo in China by 2018.

“With virtual reality, we can put you in the African savannah or fly you into outer space,” said Landmark CEO and founder, Tony Christopher. “This completely changes the idea of an old-fashioned museum by allowing kids to experience prehistoric dinosaurs or legendary creatures as we develop new experiences that keep them coming back for more. We’ll combine education and entertainment into one destination that’s always evolving.”

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