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Op-Ed: Clearing Up Misinformation About Reston Zoo

by RestonNow.com — July 2, 2015 at 1:00 pm 1,679 19 Comments

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

  • Guy Montag

    Cool story bro: Go back to keeping animals in captivity and abusing them on a whim.

  • LaureenMT
    • Guy Montag

      There’s no room for facts when it comes to an OpEd

    • obxers

      Just read this article if you want a brief description of the curator, whom Mr. Morgansen now seems to subtly (or not so much) blaming, testified his daughter had done to the animals, and bear in mind that his daughter was found guilty, meaning that his daughter was not believed (or, at least, certainly not fully so).

  • obxers

    “Feds file 18 page complaint against owners of Virginia Safari Park.” http://www.wset.com/story/29381378/feds-file-18-page-complaint-against-owners-of-virginia-safari-park

  • obxers

    Their Natural Bridge Zoo was closed down and only recently has reopened. http://wmra.org/post/natural-bridge-zoo-passes-test-reopens

    • Zoofan

      The Natural Bridge Zoo is owned and operated by a different family with the same last name. The two are completely unrelated.

      • obxers

        All three zoos, including the Fla zoo, are owned within the same Morgansen family according to every article, of many, that I have read.

  • Emily

    I will never go there after what happened and nothing you say will change my mind when you kept the monkeys in that little land when you first started out I called animal abuse from the start

  • obxers

    “All other issues for which Reston Zoo has been cited concern other employees.”

    And that matters, why?

    • MaggieSays

      Because it means they have multiple people on staff who mistreat animals.

      • obxers

        Exactly. So why is he emphasizing that?? (Or is that an editor’s added note and I misunderstood it for his own comment.) It means the whole place is poorly managed. The entire piece is written very poorly, is very whiny from the owner, and disregards that ALL three of zoos owed by his family have complaints. This op-ed clears up little to nothing. “I realize this letter will not change any minds, nor was it meant to.” – then you probably should not have written it.

  • June Smith

    It just breaks my heart when we make these animals dependent on humans for their health and welfare – and then allow them to be abused.

  • Greg

    Wow. Just wow. Your attorneys approved this?

    Best to close the zoo. Sell (the rest of) the land, take your profits and leave. I am sure there are plenty of developers who will pay far more for the land than it’s worth as a tainted hell-hole of a wanna-be zoo.

  • Cluster Tycoon

    Hey Eric. Better sell the zoo and make a few billions while the economy is still good. Truth is people don’t care about the zoo and if anything only the human zoo. So take your money and go to.Russia where people still have an appreciation for nature. Take care

  • Laura Beth

    If trying to correct misperceptions, it would be better to clearly disclose that Meghan is your daughter, which means that your take on events can hardly be unbiased. So while she is not an owner, her family does indeed own Reston Zoo. She was not only charged with animal cruelty, she was convicted of it – not to even mention the attempted cover-up of her actions. Compliance with USDA standards is a bare minimum (it’s the law) and the Reston Zoo is still not in “complete compliance” as you yourself state later in your own letter. I would be more impressed if Reston Zoo and your other animal parks earned AZA accreditation. I hope that you are sincere in your efforts to improve the quality of your facilities and that this is more than just a public relations effort to offset the negative publicity.

  • Dave

    Sad to see so much negativity in the comments. I doubt that either side is completely right or completely wrong. Everybody makes mistakes. Hoping for the best for all involved – the animals, the owners/employees, the patrons, and the commenters. Can we put a pause on the anger for a bit and offer constructive suggestions that might help make things better?

  • Cindy

    “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.” Perhaps the care if living animals should be handled by people with experience in doing so, not “young people who make mistakes”. Would you hire such a person to care for your children? I think not. You’re basically saying you have irresponsible hiring habits. Yet another reason to add to this list of reasons to shut this place down.

    • mcmcmc2013

      haha, I think pre-teens in middle school are the majority of babysitters, what are you talking about?

      Thanks for the op-ed. You’re right, it won’t change many people’s minds (at least people who are commenting on RestonNow), but it is good to have both sides of a story. One highly-publicized mishandling of how best to treat an injured animal put the zoo under a microscope. I think if the worst 2-3 things that happened in any zoo’s history were also written out in Washington Post, the same thing would happen. That said, even perceived mistreatment of animals often strikes a bigger chord with people than human abuse, so it’s an unenviable position. I think I’ll just stay out of the zoo business–seems like lose-lose.

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