An overnight break-in at Ochsner Park Zoo in Baraboo, Wisconsin has resulted in the disappearance of two Great Horned Owls as well as a pair of river otters. According to zookeepers at the Ochsner Park Zoo, the zoo was broken into overnight and several cages were opened. When staff arrived the following morning, several cages were found to be opened and four animals were discovered missing.
It is thought that the break-in was carried out with the intent of releasing animals in the zoo’s care. While it is not uncommon for people to feel uncomfortable with zoos and to dislike the idea of animals kept in cages, this often stems from a lack of understanding of the value of accredited zoos. Reputable zoos are, in some cases, the only place where endangered species are successfully reproducing. Standards for such zoos are high and require that animals be kept in naturalistic habitats which stimulate their wild instincts. Many zoos are indispensable sources of conservation, study, and education. Zoo animals are also often not suited for release into the wild. Animals who are to be released into the wild must be prepared to fend for themselves and must be kept from becoming carriers of diseases which could impact wild populations. The animals which zoo goers observe in exhibits often may not meet these criteria.
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The Ochsner Park Zoo is largely inhabited by animals rescued from the pet trade or rehabilitated wild animals which are not good candidates for rerelease. Such animals would not survive life in the wild. Furthermore, admission to the zoo is free, so it is clear that the animals are not being carelessly paraded around for the sake of profit.
The evident danger of releasing animals from zoos is demonstrated by Jerry, a Great Horned Owl who was released during this break-in and who has since been recovered and returned to the zoo. While it is fortunate that Jerry has been found, he did not get through this misadventure unscathed. Jerry has fractures in two places in his wing. One fracture is expected to heal quickly but the other may never fully heal.
With Jerry recovered, and the missing river otters found by kayakers and returned, only one animal remains unaccounted for. Linda, another Great Horned Owl, has yet to be located. Zookeepers worry that, because Linda is not a wild owl and is unable to hunt, she will grow weak from starvation and may be unable to avoid landing on the ground. There, she would be vulnerable to all manner of predators. Anyone living in the Baraboo area in Wisconsin is asked to keep an eye out for Linda. Without returning to the zoo as soon as possible, it is unlikely that she will survive this incident.