Op-Ed: Clearing Up Misinformation About Reston Zoo

Reston Zoo/Credit: Reston ZooThis is an op-ed by Eric Mogensen, CEO and Corporate Director of the Reston Zoo. It does not represent the opinion of Reston Now.

There continue to be misperceptions about Reston Zoo and past events. The recent report of USDA filing charges against us, all of which are being refuted, has made it an appropriate time to clarify.

Meghan Mogensen was an employee of the zoo in 2012. She has never been an owner of any of the facilities, as has been repeatedly listed incorrectly. She was the Zoo Director and not involved with daily animal care; that person was the Animal Curator. The curator was directly involved with both the [euthanized] wallaby and the [injured] spider monkey. She was under company investigation for the spider monkey when the wallaby was injured. This was not made public. Corroborating materials will be presented in court. Meghan’s role begins and ends with the wallaby. All other issues for which Reston Zoo has been cited concern other employees.

As reported, Meghan was charged with animal cruelty. Her intent was to ease the suffering of a gravely injured animal as quickly as possible because her curator failed to do her job. The intent was admirable, the process wrong. However, the official necropsy report showed no signs of drowning, i.e. the animal was already deceased. Meghan is a vocal animal rights advocate when it comes to their care; her intent was never to cause any suffering. There was no cruel intent. This is a woman who hand-reared porcupines and pot-belly pigs in our house when she was a girl; a parrot from the day it hatched; helped raise multiple baby kangaroos on bottles.

There have been mistakes made at the zoo, but they were made by animal staff which sincerely cared for their animals, and were inadvertent. As in every zoo in this country, including our very well respected National Zoo, animals die through mistakes and keeper error. No animal cruelty is involved; there is no vicious intent.

Our staff loves their animals; most [staffers] young and want to save the world. For many, this is their first paying  job out of college. It’s hard, gritty and many times unappreciated by everybody and everything concerned. When an animal dies under their care they take it hard. To have the public suggest otherwise shows a lack of knowledge of the bond the keepers and their animals share.

Reston Zoo has worked well with the USDA over the past 15 years, even though now they are making allegations against our facilities. All charges have been refuted by us and have been presented to them through our corporate attorneys. The allegations were filled with redundant, inaccurate and misleading information. The zoo is in complete compliance, and has always made changes whenever there were issues cited. These charges are without merit, and are the result of combining reports for three facilities over a five-year period. All zoos get citations for being non-compliant at times. The inspection process is arbitrary and based upon an individual inspectors personal whims. I visit many zoos each year and  am frustrated by the lack of consistency within the USDA inspection process.

The USDA inspector will inspect hundreds of possible infractions on each visit. If you look at Reston’s reports you will find that most infractions were very minor, and corrected immediately. Keep in mind that to get to those few citations we were in compliance 99 percent of the time. However, since they only comment on the negative, you never hear about the positive.

Reston Zoo has transformed itself over the past several years, with most of the zoo exhibits being updated. We have double perimeter fencing, paved pathways, new exhibits, new holding buildings, different animals. We strive to make the facility a very nice respite.

I realize this letter will not change any minds, nor was it meant to; it was written to correct fallacies listed in previous media reports. We take great pride in the changes to the zoo, and the job that our staff accomplishes every day. We will continue to improve your community zoo.

Eric Mogensen
CEO/Corporate Director

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