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National Zoo director says staff stretched thin

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WASHINGTON (AP/WJLA) - A National Zoo report is shedding light on some serious problems at the zoo, problems that may have contributed to recent deaths and animal escapes. 

The National Zoo's internal investigation was prompted by a series of midhaps that led to several animal deaths, injuries, and escapes over the past year. 

Recent deaths of zoo animals include a female Red river hog died earlier this month, a gazelle that died in November and a pregnant antelope that died in June. Rusty, a red panda, escaped from the zoo in June. 

On Wednesday, a Przewalski's horse died at the zoo's Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Va. The colt was found in the barn where he lived with his mother, another female, and her filly. The colt was seen Tuesday afternoon in fine health. A preliminary necropsy revealed the colt had a fractured neck. 

The director of the National Zoo says the zoo's resources and staff are stretched too thin.

The Washington Post reports the zoo's director, Dennis Kelly, made the comments Tuesday. Kelly says he can't "spread this staff any more thin than it is now."

"We're definitely thin on resources," says Pamela Baker-Masson, the zoo's spokesperson. "We've experienced cuts over the years."

Baker-Masson says budget cuts are largely to blame, but added they are reviewing and making changes. She insisted that overall, the National Zoo remains a national jewel. 

“Animals are very well-cared for and the people who care for them are incredibly passionate. There’s no question in my mind,” she says. 

And many coming to see the 2,000 animals, including the beloved giant panda, seemed to agree.

“I don’t know what’s going on, but what I do know is that most people working at the zoo are working really hard and doing their best,” says Serena Brenner.

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