The Smithsonian’s National Zoo has temporarily closed the Kids’ Farm exhibit because E. coli stx 1 gene bacteria was discovered in a few of the animals. The animals are now being managed under quarantine protocols. At this time, no staff have been affected and no animals are showing any signs of disease. While E. coli exists all around us, and even in us, some types of E. coli are “pathogenic,” meaning they can cause illness.
Zoo veterinarians detected the original presence of the E. coli stx 1 gene bacteria in the goats through a routine fecal screening process Feb. 18. The goats were moved into the barn and managed separately from the other animals and visitors. Individual fecal cultures were performed Feb. 22. Last Friday, Feb. 26, results revealed that four goats and one cow were positive. Based on these results, the Kids’ Farm was immediately quarantined and staff started appropriate protective measures, including treating all the farm animals with antibiotics. The animal care team is consulting with experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service and the D.C. Department of Health.
All public contact animals–goats, cows, alpacas and donkeys–were negative for E. coli stx 1 at the last routine testing in December 2015. The bacteria is passed fecal-orally, and it could have been transferred to the goats and cow from a wild animal, from humans or through a food source. The types of E. coli that can cause diarrhea in humans can be transmitted through contaminated water or food, or through contact with infected animals or persons.
“As most people know, E. coli is everywhere in our environment,” said Brandie Smith, associate director of animal care sciences. “Because it is so common, we routinely test our animals. It’s unfortunate that we have to close the Kids’ Farm temporarily, but we’re taking the right preventative measures for our guests, staff and the animals.”
The team will monitor all the animals extremely closely, continue weekly fecal testing and provide the usual high-quality care during this quarantine period. When Zoo veterinarians receive three consecutive weeks of negative test results, the team will start the planning for lifting the quarantine and reopening the Kids’ Farm.