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Groundhog captured at The Maryland Zoo tests positive for rabies

Posted at 11:44 AM, Jul 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-13 17:49:34-04

Some people checking out The Maryland Zoo Saturday got more than they paid for.  Along with the collection of animals, a groundhog was inside the park.

Zoo officials say the critter was spotted near the boardwalk entrance to Maryland Wilderness.  A visitor alerted security because the creature was following her.

A red flag for staff because wild animals don't typically get close to people.

"The animal care staff here immediately responded to that call and captured the groundhog and brought it up to the hospital for an evaluation," said Maryland Zoo Associate Veterinarian Dr. Christy Rettenmund.

The Maryland Department of Health announced Thursday the groundhog tested positive for the rabies virus.

"It's carried by lots of different wildlife species such as raccoons and bats and foxes,” said Dr. Kelly Zier, Associate Veterinarian at Falls Road Animal Hospital.  “We've had cases documented in the U.S. and Maryland."

Rabies is spread by saliva, usually through a bite.  So far this year,112 animals across the state have tested positive for the disease.

Back at the zoo, folks heading into the park weren’t concerned.

"If nobody was hurt then the zoo has everything under control,” said Rory Black.

“I think things happen and I’m glad they took action, and I’m glad they told people and they were open about it, and I think they did the best they could," Lindsey Seynhaeve said.

"I think that people should come to the zoo regardless,” said Peggy Kohlhepp.

Officials tells WMAR no other guests reported seeing or touching the rabid rodent. 

All of the animals in the zoo are vaccinated for rabies so they're protected incase infected wildlife gets into the enclosures.

"Rabies is endemic in Maryland, don't be afraid to come to the zoo, your risk here is no greater than anywhere else, and your risk of contracting a wild animal here is also very low," Rettenmund said.

Every year about 900 Marylanders are treated for suspected rabies exposure.

To be safe, The Maryland Department of Health wants anyone who came into contact with a groundhog at the Maryland Zoo between June 24th and July 8th to give them a call for a risk assessment at 410-767-5649, or after hours at 410-795-7365.

To prevent exposure to rabies, the health department recommends the following:

  • Have your dogs, cats, ferrets, horses, sheep and cattle vaccinated against rabies.
  • Keep your pet under your control at all times, especially while traveling
  • Enjoy wildlife from a distance and don't feed or attempt to rescue wildlife.
  • Avoid sick animals and any animals that are acting in an unusual manner.
  • Cover garbage cans securely and don't leave pet food outside.
  • Do not relocate wildlife.
  • Keep bats from entering your home. If you find a bat in your home, don't touch it. Only let it go if you're sure no people or household pets have had any contact with it. Contact the health department or animal control agency for help.
  • If you or your pet has been bitten, or otherwise exposed to a rabid or suspected rabid domestic animal, get the owner's name, address and telephone number. Contact the health department or animal control agency immediately.