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Penguins and flamingo fall prey to peckish foxes

One of the most surprising disclosures in the report is that wild foxes have been creeping into the zoo and killing the exhibits.

On 18 March 2009, foxes passed through broken fencing and killed 11 of the zoo’s South African and Rockhopper penguins in a single night.

The attack is thought to have happened around dawn, between the end of security guards’ night-time inspections and the arrival of day staff.

Keepers discovered the dead penguins at 7am and cleared up their bodies before the zoo opened three hours later, presumably with visitors oblivious to the carnage.

There have been several further fox attacks: the carnivores returned and changed their menu to include a flamingo, a pair of large guinea pig-like rodents more commonly found in Patagonia, and poultry.

The report details another unusual incident – the unfortunate demise of a yellow-tailed mongoose, killed while burrowing when a loose porcupine quill punctured its abdomen.

Asked whether there had been any other animals killed by fellow animals, the zoo said an Arabian gazelle had to be put down after a “particularly aggressive scuffle with a zebra”.

The report noted: “There have been fox attacks at both the penguin and flamingo enclosures. An investigation into that [the penguin] incident established that the fence surrounding the penguin pool was damaged and not reported to ZSL.”

The inspectors asked the zoo for its pest control measures. After reviewing them, they remarked that there were “significant pest and vermin problems”. The zoo had “significant programmes” to deal with the problem, it acknowledged, but the efforts had been undermined by the moving of some fox traps by persons unknown.

Asked for a list of all animals killed by foxes since January 2007, ZSL told The Independent that mortalities included 11 penguins (all killed on 18 March 2009), one flamingo, two South American mara (rodents resembling small kangaroos), and a free-range chicken – killed in February this year, indicating that fox attacks remain a problem.

On the penguin attack, the zoo said: “Keepers believe a vehicle exiting the car park adjacent to the enclosure on Wednesday evening may have unknowingly damaged the perimeter fence, which pressed against and snapped an electric wire inside the enclosure.

“This left a short section of fence without an electric deterrent. The entire enclosure was immediately re-wired and the fence strengthened. The penguin enclosure had been in use for five years prior to this and there had been no previous incidents of foxes gaining access.”

It said that the penguin population was now 41, having been boosted by breeding and the transfer of one individual from Whipsnade Zoo, which ZSL also runs.