After six cotton-top tamarin monkeys were found dead at the Oregon Zoo at the end of May, an investigation of zoo records showed they likely died of stress resulting from a 50-hour ride there.
A report from the zoo’s veterinary Michael Garner states the five females and one male tamarins died of symptoms “consistent with acute systemic shock” although he doesn’t rule out the possibility of heat stroke or breathing in toxins as causes as well.
The tamarins were found dead two days after they were transported from the east coast to Portland in picnic coolers with holes cut out in them.
“As you know those coolers are meant to be air tight for food and drinks, without proper venting that allows circulation (not just a single hole cut),” wrote Jennifer Davis, the curator of primates and Africa exhibits for the zoo in a report. “I personally believe they could be dangerous, especially depending on the size and number of animals.”
Unfortunately Davis’ concerns came too late and the animals were transported in a van for 50 hours inside coolers. When they arrived, keepers noted the animals were healthy but “very excited and skittish” and kept them inside the coolers while they were in quarantine. Two days later, veterinary technician Margot Monti found six of the nine animals dead.
“I could see one of the animals’ heads sticking out of the entrance,” Monti wrote in a report. “But it was not moving so I gently shook the box. When there was still no reaction, I touched the top of the animal’s head with gloved hand and found it to be stiff and cold.”
Deputy zoo director Chris Pfefferkorn claimed in a meeting on May 28th that he tried to warn the donors of the monkeys that 50 hours would be too long of a ride for the animals but was told they had done that before successfully.
The donors turned out to be Harvard Medical School who released a statement defending the practice.
This is not Oregon Zoo’s first mishap involving its animals. In 2008, a female black rhinoceros was driven cross-country by a zoo employee. She died in the back of the truck somewhere outside of Phoenix. Then in May the zoo director and chief veterinarian were both fired after being accused of withholding information regarding the death of a Sumatran orangutan.
The reports investigating the death of the six endangered tamarins, who are among only 6,000 left in world, show the zoo staff shifting the blame around different departments.
The surviving tamarins are still in the care of the Oregon Zoo.
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