National Zoo Zebra Bites Zookeeper, Likely Leading To Rare Gazelle's Death

11/19/2013 09:32 am ET
Connor Mallon, Smithsonian's National Zoo

Let's hope your week started off better than this.

A rare gazelle named after a fitness guru died at the National Zoo on Monday. Zookeepers think the gazelle was fatally injured when he ran into a barrier, after being spooked when a zebra attacked a zookeeper in a nearby enclosure.

The unlikely series of events began around 8:45 a.m., the zoo said in a statement, when 10-year-old male zebra named Gumu bit a veteran keeper multiple times. The keeper, whose name was not released, was “definitely bleeding,” but conscious and talking as he was taken to a local hospital for treatment, said Annalisa Meyer, a zoo spokeswoman.

Officials said the keeper was in an enclosure with Gumu and two other male zebras, Moyo and Domo, when Gumu started to bite him. Officials are trying to determine why the keeper was inside the enclosure with the animals, which is a violation of zoo procedures. The incident occurred out of public view.

About 11:15 a.m., a Dama gazelle named Tony was found dead inside his enclosure, next to where the zebras are located. Initial necropsy result indicate that the gazelle had fractured a vertebrae.

Tony, otherwise known as "Little Tony," was an energetic animal named after informercial star Tony Little. Here's a video the zoo released last fall, when the gazelle was just a few weeks old and very bouncy:

Dama gazelles are considered to be "critically endangered" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, mostly, it is thought, due to hunting and habitat loss. The IUCN estimates there are fewer than 500 of the animals in the wild, living in small herds in Mali, Niger and Chad.

Gumu, a Grevy's zebra -- listed as "endangered" on the IUCN Red List -- was unharmed but taken off exhibit and moved to the holding area at the Cheetah Conservation Station for things to "calm down," zoo spokesperson Pamela Baker-Masson told DCist.

“It’s a terrible loss for us today,” Baker-Masson said, according to the Washington Times. “We’re very sad that our colleague was injured. We preach safety all the time. We have not had this kind of incident in all the years we’ve managed Grevy’s zebras. Undeniably something happened this morning, but we don’t know what.”

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