The Associated Press reported on an unfortunate run in between a wild deer and lion at The National Zoo in Washington, D.C. on November 9. The story, picked up by the New York Post, carries the headline “Video: Lions kill baby deer as DC zoo visitors watch.”
But in fact, as ABC News notes in their report “Deer escapes lion attack“, the deer was not killed while zoo visitors watched some bloody ripping-apart. It’s not even clear whether the deer was a “baby”. The Post headline falsely suggests a brutal scene–Zoo-goers watching as the deer is killed and eaten by lions. ABC got it right. In reality, the confrontation between the animals was mostly a chase. So why is this such a popular news story?
In the video, the lion clearly appears to be unsure about what she’s supposed to do with this unexpected visitor. After the deer pulls out of her grip, the lion chases the deer to the water’s edge. The prey jumps in the moat, and the predator decides she’s not interested in much of a swim today. The video ends there.
According to the ABC report, the deer, later examined by Zoo officials, was ultimately determined to be injured beyond survival and was euthanized. So yes, the deer did die, but not at the lion’s immediate claws, as the Post headline suggests.
Moreover, it seems unlikely that either the AP or the New York Post did the necessary research to determine conclusively that this was a “baby” deer. This Missouri Department of Conservation website outlines the complicated process used to measure the age of a deer. “Deer are aged by examining the teeth of the lower jaw. This is the only accurate field method. Size, color, and antler development may give clues as to general age (young or old), but they are not accurate indicators of age,” the site guide explains.
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“To use the charts showing dental age characters, you must have a clear view of the cheek teeth on at least one side of the lower jaw. The mouth must be opened as far as possible. A tire tool or other type of pry bar is usually needed. Cutting the cheek muscles provides a clear view of the cheek teeth after the mouth is opened. If the cheek muscles cannot be cut, as on a trophy buck, a flashlight will help in seeing the cheek teeth.”
In all likelihood AP or New York Post reporters were not able, or even willing to go to these kind of gruesome lengths to determine the deer’s age.
Other news media in addition to ABC avoided this sensational headline. The Washington Post wrote “Deer fatally injured after jumping into lion’s den.” A Fox DC affiliate titled their coverage simply “Deer Leaps Into Lion Exhibit”. The Sun wrote “Deer escapes lion’s clutches”.
Lion kills baby deer while people watch? Not so much, no matter how you spin it.