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Zebra scared by ambulance dies after accident at Tenn. zoo, officials say

Knoxville EMS providers kept the rig’s siren off in an effort to quietly respond to a medical call



By Irene Wright
The Charlotte Observer

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A second zebra has died at a Tennessee zoo after colliding with enclosure fencing, officials announced.

Lydia, a 7-year-old Hartmann’s mountain zebra, died from a traumatic neck injury on April 22, according to a post from Zoo Knoxville.

Officials said an ambulance was called to the zoo to respond to a visitor and needed access to a guest pathway that runs in front of the zebra enclosure.

The zoo said staff asked the medical personnel to turn off the ambulance sirens, but despite a quieter entry, the zebra herd still became distressed.

“Although the zebra are acclimated to truck and car traffic on the service road behind their habitat, they are not accustomed to traffic in that area,” the post said. “Staff noted the zebras were reactive to the ambulance and immediately began intervention to move them from the area of the habitat in proximity to the first responders.”

The zebras began to calm down, the zoo said, and staff decided to keep the zebras in their enclosure while the first responders passed.

Then, eight minutes after the ambulance had left the area, Lydia “unexpectedly bolted” and crashed into the enclosure’s fencing.

The staff immediately started their emergency protocols and moved the other zebras out of the enclosure to make it safer for staff to approach and treat Lydia.

By the time the staff and veterinary personnel got to Lydia, she had died, the zoo said. Lydia died instantly when she hit the fencing, likely breaking her neck, the veterinary staff said.

“We regularly drill for emergencies to be prepared for every conceivable scenario to ensure positive outcomes. Sadly, despite all our efforts yesterday to care for our people and our animals we had a tragic accident occur,” Lisa New, president and CEO of Zoo Knoxville, said in the post. “While we did everything we could to balance the need for emergency treatment for our employee and keeping our zebra stable in the process, we were still dealing with wild animals that reacted as such.”

This isn’t the first time the zoo has lost a zebra this way, it said.

In 2021, a zebra named Wiley, 5, was “being prepped for a veterinary procedure” when she took off and collided with one of the corral fences, killing her.

“As you can imagine, this is a very difficult situation for everyone and we appreciate the compassion our guests showed us as this unfolded yesterday,” New said of Lydia’s death.

Zoo Knoxville maintained a herd of four mountain zebras before losing Lydia, who arrived at the zoo in 2018.

Mountain zebras are a vulnerable species with only an estimated 8,000 animals left in the wild, according to Zoo Knoxville curator Petty Grieve.

Lydia, along with two other zebras, came to Zoo Knoxville as part of a species survival plan program that works to grow declining animal populations through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.

Mountain zebras are found in the wild in southern Africa along the edge of the Namib desert, according to the zoo. They weigh an average of 600 pounds and can live to ages of 60 to 70 years in the wild.

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