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A zoo's protected environment does not mean its animals are immortal, and people should not be alarmed by three recent deaths at Hogle Zoo, officials say.

A baby goat, a fox and a marmoset monkey died in separate incidents at the zoo. The goat "darted in between cars of the zoo train but didn't make it," said zoo veterinarian Ross Anderson.That death took place June 3, as did the fox's death of shock after her foot got stuck behind a steel plate that night and she was attacked by other foxes. The marmoset suffered a head injury when it fell in its cage May 8, something that Anderson said "could happen in the wild."

All three deaths are natural, Anderson said. "With life comes death," he said. "It could be accidents, it could be illness. There's nothing that says they (animals) are not going to die at the zoo."

People who direct anger toward the zoo when animals die "divorce themselves from the natural cycle of life," he added.

In Anderson's estimation, the attention Hogle Zoo has received since November - after the deaths of a giraffe, polar bear, orangutan, sea lion, two Thomson gazelles, five Capuchin monkeys, an Asian elephant and the three other animals - has been needlessly negative. "There's an awful lot said about what we consider routine," he said. "We have to deal with it every day, and we do a good job."

Still, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has an investigation pending for prior incidents at Hogle Zoo, will look into the most recent deaths, said veterinarian Ron DeHaven, western supervisor of the USDA animal-care division. "This one is not a formal investigation, it's more a case of our inspector going to the zoo to talk with them," he said.

DeHaven said he preferred not to divulge details about the pending investigation, other than that it examines violations of the Animal Welare Act, and was filed prior to the death of the elephant last April. Officials at the USDA headquarters will determine whether to prosecute.

DeHaven said he did not know how the number of deaths at Hogle Zoo compares with other zoos in the country, saying he did not think those statistics were kept. But Hogle Zoo general curator Kimberly Davidson said based on figures from other zoos, Hogle Zoo rates below them in the number of deaths.

Her figures, gathered from zoos in Chicago, Seattle and Canada, among other places, show an animal mortality rate ranging from 17 percent to 21 percent at zoos in 1993. Hogle Zoo's percentage for that year was 14.9 percent, she said.

"When people come down on us, the problem is, they're not making any comparisons," she said.

Added Anderson, "It's been said there's only one way to bring mortality to an end, and that's to close the zoo."