Zoo Documents

This is the central page for documents I get from government-owned zoos and aquariums, which are subject to public-records requests. I’ll also be posting information about zoos/aquariums that refuse to release documents or charge extortionary fees.

My first round of requests is to ask zoos/aquariums for necropsies, which are autopsies of animals. Learning how and why animals in a zoo’s custody died is a crucial form of oversight, yet this information has never available to the public until now.

Denver Zoo (Colorado)

The City and County of Denver own the grounds and buildings of the Denver Zoo, which is located it Denver’s City Park. The City and County of Denver operated the zoo for its first 60 years, then contracted with a nonprofit foundation to run the zoo. The Denver Zoo receives a quarter of its funding/revenue from the local government, and in 2017 it got an additional $20 million in funding from the City and County of Denver via a referendum. Despite this, the zoo — through its lawyer — claims that it is a private entity not subject to Colorado’s open-records law. If you’d like to read the legalistic contortions that allow them to make this ridiculous claim, here’s the letter I received. (This government-nonprofit nexus, unfortunately, is an increasingly common arrangement that zoos are using  as an excuse to dodge public-records requests, transparency, and accountability.)

The National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute
(a/k/a the Smithsonian Zoo)


Necropsy summaries: 2015, 2018, Jan-March 2019 [PDF]

Necropsy reports: October 1, 2016 – February 1, 2017 [PDF]

The second file comes from the good folks at Government Attic. The first file was obtained by Animal Info Sanctuary via an SD-807 request to the Smithsonian.

NEW North Carolina Aquariums


Necropsy reports: January 2018 – May 24, 2019 [PDF]

Covers all four locations: Fort Fisher, Pine Knoll Shores, Roanoke Island, and Jennette’s Pier.

North Carolina Zoo


Necropsy reports: January 2018 – May 16, 2019 [PDF]

Orange County Zoo (California)


Necropsy reports: January 2018 – March 2019 [PDF]

Kudos to the OC Zoo for a fantastic response. They released these documents quickly, with no redactions and no fees. They should be considered a model for best practices regarding public-records responses. Many other zoos could learn a lot from them.

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