A few days ago, news of the escape and capture of Rusty the Red Panda from the National Zoo exploded across the country (and echoed around the globe). I took particular interest in the story for two reasons: 1) red pandas are my favorite zoo animal. I never leave the zoo without stopping by to see these little half raccoon – half fox (all adorable) creatures scuffling down a tree branch — or, more usually, sleeping in a nice shady spot. and 2) I live very close to the zoo. In light of Rusty's escapade, I decided to file a FOIA for plans the Smithsonian has on hand to notify the public and local residents about the escape of any animals.
Probably not Rusty.
Thankfully, Rusty was found fairly quickly after his great escape. And, since red pandas are not aggressive creatures, he created minimal risk to the public. But what if the animal that escaped was less cute and more lethal? Would the Zoo post notices around local buildings or use neighborhood list servs or social media? Would the Zoo rely on the media to spread the word?
The Smithsonian, which runs the National Zoo, maintains it is not subject to the Freedom of Information Act. However, "the Smithsonian’s disclosure policy follows the spirit of the FOIA to foster openness and accountability." And they do have directions on their site for how to file a FOIA for information held by the Smithsonian.
Join us and File a FOIA on the Fourth.