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Flood Keeps Zookeepers on Toes

June 27th, 2011

photo credit: Rich Addicks for the New York Times

Zoo Animals Safe From Flood (Keeps Keepers on Their Toes)

June 27, 2011 — As some major rivers continue to overflow at record rates in the U.S., the Souris River in Minot, North Dakota is the latest, spilling its banks Friday into many of the homes and businesses of the people who live there.

photo credit: Rich Addicks for the New York Times

About 12,000 people had to leave their homes as close to a quarter of Minot was flooded, many homes nearly to their roofs. Water levels stopped going up Sunday, but it will take a very long time for people to recover.

In these situations we hear about residents preparing as best they can, packing up their belongings and leaving their homes for a safer place, but what happens when the water threatens to flood the local zoo?

The New York Times over the weekend described how zookeepers in Minot are handling that situation.

“From the pictures I’ve seen of Noah’s Ark, the animals came on board pretty easily, two by two, marching right along,” said the zoo director, David Merritt. He’s referring to a famous story in the Bible where a man named Noah built a huge boat (an ark) to save at least two of each animal as he prepared for 40 days of rain.

Of his own situation Mr. Merritt added, “That’s not exactly what happened.”

After finding a huge, old furniture warehouse to house the animals, the tricky part was getting the animals there.  “It took a frantic search to find someone in Wisconsin with a trailer able to accommodate a giraffe. And it took quite a bit longer to convince the giraffes that the trailer was accommodating,” wrote A.G. Sulzberger, the writer of the New York Times story.

And then there were the 500-pound lions, flamingos, pelicans, wolves, donkeys, bobcats, tamarin monkeys, bears, bison, camels, and an alligator, among others, each with their own challenges.

photo: Rich Addicks for NYTimes

Some animals, like the bears, were shipped directly to other zoos. Some of the bison, llamas, and elk were taken in by farmers. Smaller reptiles are being kept in a locker room at a hockey rink, while the lone alligator has his own tub at the warehouse.

Zookeepers at the main location took almost a day to corral the bison, the Silka deer bounced out, the wolves howl at night, and the potbellied pig gave a chase, according to the New York Times story.

And then there are the camels who have been showing a mischievous side. When they’re not plotting escape attempts they’re flicking the light switches on and off with their tongues.

photo: Rich Addicks for The NYTimes

Animals continue to be transferred to other zoos while dedicated zookeepers are working around the clock under very trying and unusual circumstances.  Challenges aside, the executive director of the parks department, Ron Merritt, said, “They really designed an awfully nice little zoo in hours.”


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