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Red River Hogs at Jackson Zoo fight, suffer injuries after being left in enclosures for months

Published: Oct. 15, 2021 at 6:53 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - Days after the city of Jackson announced it had received its three-year operator’s license, documents obtained through an open records request reveal that hogs at the Jackson Zoological Park had been confined to their night quarters for months, while sanitation problems were reported in an area used to store animal feed.

Last summer, reports revealed that the zoo’s Red River Hogs had been left in their nighttime enclosures for seven months. And while work was ongoing to repair their exhibit, three of the animals escaped. Two hogs were recaptured almost immediately but another was able to elude zookeepers for several days.

Sanitation issues were reported in the bulk food storage area adjacent to the zoo’s kitchen, with inspections revealing that the walk-in freezer was not working and that rodents had chewed into several bags of food being stored there.

Parks and Recreation Director Ison Harris said the city has addressed those concerns, as evidenced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recent decision to grant the city a new three-year operator’s license.

As for the hogs, he said improvements to the red river exhibit have been completed and the hogs are now living in much better conditions.

“They’re doing really well,” he said. “They’re enjoying their new habitat.”

Harris touted the hundreds of thousands of dollars in improvements made to the zoo since it was reopened last August. He said the city is looking forward to doing additional projects at the park, including bringing in more animals and building a new interactive lorikeet exhibit.

Crews and volunteers also tore down the old, dilapidated animal contact barn near the zoo’s main entrance, with the hopes of eventually building a new animal encounter exhibit to replace it.

That removal project came to fruition with the help of Revitalize Mississippi.

“We probably did over $300,000 in improvements in the last year and a half,” he said. “We still have more that needs to be done.”

The improvements were needed, in large part, so the city could obtain its USDA operator’s license.

A license is required for the zoo to show animals to the public.

Jackson received a temporary license prior to reopening in August 2020, and a permanent license in late September or early October 2020.

However, the city was informed in August that it would have to re-apply for the license, which, if approved, would allow the zoo to operate through 2023.

Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba announced earlier this month that the city was granted that permit and the zoo had passed its most recent inspections.

Harris cited numerous improvements made to the park, including the trimming of vegetation around the park’s perimeter fence and adding new fencing where needed.

Additionally, crews have repainted 26 or 27 buildings at the century-old park and replaced several rotten boards along the boardwalk.

The city has repainted 26 or 27 buildings at the Jackson Zoological Park, including the...
The city has repainted 26 or 27 buildings at the Jackson Zoological Park, including the visitor's center and admissions office.(WLBT)

That work aside, Harris said many upgrades won’t be noticed by visitors, such as installing new HVAC units in the primate enclosures.

“We had to get HVACs for the primates, and so that was a big (part) of it,” he said. “A big part of it was the perimeter fence we had to install... which was major in the USDA part of getting that license.”

Harris also pointed to a chain-link fence located behind the splash pad, in an area that most visitors likely wouldn’t notice on their ways in and out.

All of the work required by USDA focused on improving the health and the safety of the animals.

Vegetation had to be removed from the perimeter fence, in part, to prevent animals from scaling the fence if they escape their enclosures.

Vegetation removed from around zoo perimeter fence.
Vegetation removed from around zoo perimeter fence.(WLBT)

Additionally, some animal enclosures had to be repainted to make them easier to clean.

In December, USDA found that the night enclosures for two colobus monkeys, for instance, had “flaking, peeling paint on the walls.”

According to the report, “Surfaces that contain peeling or flaking paint cannot be readily cleaned and sanitized and may harbor organic matter or disease-causing organisms,” the USDA report stated. “Cleaning and sanitation of surfaces within enclosures (are) important for animal health and well-being.”

The Red River Hogs exhibit also needed several upgrades, including dry and muddy areas for the hogs to enjoy.

“We had to do extensive work (on) drainage, to make sure it drained properly. When you have river hogs, you need mud, but mud can clog up the drainage,” he said. “We had to put a filter system (in) to stop the mud from clogging it up. Those were the main issues with the river hogs.”

Red River Hogs hail from Africa and are typically found in rainforests and savannas, according to the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute’s website.

At one point, the zoo had 11 hogs - five females and six males. One female died of natural causes.

The males had been separated into two groups of three, with each group living in a 12-foot by 12-foot space. The females were “housed in a cement-floored indoor enclosure, which was approximately 14 feet long and 8 feet wide,” the USDA found.

Harris said the hogs were being housed indoors because while crews worked to fix problems in their outdoor exhibit space.

However, the hogs were also more prone to fighting while they were cooped up. On August 31, 2020, an adult male hog named Wesley “was observed to have a laceration on the left side of his neck/shoulder... which was managed by the attending veterinarian.” The same hog was said to have received another “deep laceration on the left side of his neck/shoulder” in October.

A second male, named Bread, “was observed to be acutely unwilling or unable to stand on October 21, 2020, and it was thought that this injury was a result of fighting with herd males.”

Pierce, the female that went missing after escaping her enclosure on July 22, 2020. She was recaptured on July 22. When she was put back in her enclosure, Pierce was attacked her herd mates, “resulting in several bite wounds to her ears, legs, and abdomen, including a bite wound on the left front leg that resulted in non-weight bearing lameness,” the USDA reported.

“We were actually doing some dozer work... in that process, after the workers had went, they were able to bore under the fence,” he said. “We actually had three that... got out and we caught two right away.”

The hog exhibit also has additional fences and shelter space added, while other areas were reinforced to prevent the animals from again getting out.

Since then, Pierce has fully recovered and is living in an enclosure separated from her herd. Said Harris, “With all that being done, everything has been wonderful since that happened.”

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