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Kids' Farm Reopens Tomorrow, April 16, at the National Zoo

The Smithsonian's National Zoo lifted its temporary quarantine on the Kids' Farm exhibit that has been in effect since Feb. 26 after E. coli stx 1 gene bacteria was discovered in a few of the animals. After seven weeks of quarantine, no animals showed any sign of disease associated with the E. coli, and no staff had been affected.

Throughout the quarantine period, the Zoo's animal care team consulted with experts from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the D.C. Department of Health. Further discussions about E. coli's effect on livestock revealed that the risk associated with this bacteria--which is transferred fecal-orally through contaminated water or food, or through contact with infected animals or persons--is low, and it is safe to reopen the exhibit. As a precaution, the Zoo has installed additional signage and sanitation stations where visitors should wash their hands with soap and water. Visitors will be able to touch the cows, alpacas and donkeys as the animals choose.

This is the first time this organism has been cultured at the Zoo, so we acted cautiously and with prudence to temporarily close the exhibit, said Brandie Smith, associate director for animal care sciences.

At the time of the Kids' Farm closing, the Zoo intended to reopen the exhibit after receiving three consecutive weeks of negative test results. Following extensive discussions with health officials about the prevalence of this bacteria in the livestock environment and in the gastrointestinal tract of humans, the professional team determined it was appropriate to reopen the Kids' Farm.

Since E. coli is so common in our environment, we will never be able to eradicate it completely, said Don Neiffer, the Zoo's chief veterinarian. However, as part of the National Zoo's preventive health program, we will evaluate and test any animals that exhibit signs of disease that could be caused by E.coli or other gastrointestinal pathogens.

Designed for children ages 3 to 8, the Kids' Farm, sponsored by State Farm, provides many urban and suburban children their first experience with animals while they learn about where food comes from. Until April 30, visitors can celebrate Kids' Farm month, with special activities and events, including animal encounters, keeper talks and demonstrations. A full list of activities is available on the Zoo's website.