News & Politics

National Zoo Closes Kids’ Farm Following Discovery of E. Coli

Goats are to blame.

Photograph by Flickr user Sharon Sipple.

The National Zoo is closing its Kids’ Farm section for a temporary, but unspecified, stretch of time following the discovery of E. coli in several animals there, the zoo announced Monday. The petting-zoo-style exhibit, where children visiting can interact with livestock, has been placed under quarantine while zoo veterinarians treat the animals.

An E. Coli infection was first detected in some of the Kids’ Farm’s goats on February 18 during a routine fecal screening, prompting National Zoo staff to move the goats into a barn and away from visitors and the animals. Later examinations confirmed that four goats tested positive for the dangerous bacteria, along with one cow. The Kids’ Farm was placed under quarantine last Friday, with all animals—including alpacas, hogs, and donkeys—receiving antibiotic treatments.

E. Coli is transmitted along the fecal-oral route, meaning the goats could have contracted it from pathogens in another animal’s waste that then contaminated their food or water supply. Humans can contract the bacteria through water, food, or contact with infected animals or people. In humans, E. Coli can cause severe stomach pains, vomiting, and bloody diarrhea.

So far, none of the infected animals have shown any signs of disease, and no zoo employees have been affected. “As most people know, E. coli is everywhere in our environment,” Brandie Smith, the zoo’s associate director of animal care sciences, says in a press release. “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 National Zoo says its veterinarians need at least three consecutive weeks of negative test results before they can lift the quarantine and reopen the Kids’ Farm.

Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.