The death of Bahati the chimpanzee deserves further scrutiny and a full accounting of what went wrong at the Kansas City Zoo.
But unless the zoo is forthcoming, the public could be left wondering how, exactly, the 31-year-old chimp died.
That’s because such information on animal deaths is no long readily accessible. The Department of Agriculture has limited access to animal inspection reports, scrubbing information from its website and leaving open the question of what documents will be available in the future.
These reports were public information in the past and should be now as well. Why documents are disappearing from the Department of Agriculture’s site remains unclear.
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The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service will look into Bahati’s death. But the USDA halted many online postings of the agency’s reports in February.
The inspection service oversees routine and unannounced scrutiny of animal breeders, research facilities and exhibits such as zoos. The oversight falls under the Animal Welfare Act.
In mid-June, some inspection reports were added back to the site. But what, if anything, the USDA will release about Bahati’s demise is uncertain.
At this point, the circumstances of the male chimp’s death remain a bit hazy.
Did Bahati die from internal injuries sustained after falling from a tree? Or did chimpanzees on the attack critically injure him after he tumbled to the ground?
Bahati was a relatively new addition to the Kansas City Zoo’s chimpanzee habitat, arriving in February after being transferred from Tampa’s Lowry Park Zoo.
The zoo staff’s explanations have included reminders of the unpredictable nature of chimpanzee interactions. Skirmishes are common in the hierarchical chimp society, a spokeswoman said.
But the zoo’s statements have also raised more questions.
Initially, a press release termed the animal’s death “an unfortunate accident.” Chased up a tree, Bahati grasped a dead branch and fell. He later died from the injuries sustained in the 30-40 foot fall, the zoo first reported.
Simply a tragic incident, it seemed.
But a few days later, the zoo disclosed that after falling, Bahati had been pummeled and chased to a ditch by other chimps in the troop.
The final report may determine if anything could have been done to prevent the altercation between the animals, or if changes to the habitat could have altered this sad outcome.
A thorough inquiry is needed, and the Kansas City Zoo should share its findings with the public.