Extreme weather events are taking their toll on animals in zoos, sometimes with tragic results. Earlier this week, after Typhoon Guchol felled a 120-year-old pine tree near the enclosure for 30 Japanese squirrels in Tokyo’s Inokashira Park Zoo, about a dozen have still remained at large. Zookeepers have been setting traps and arming themselves with nets to capture the missing squirrels and are advising people not to chase or otherwise tease the animals.
Rain led to flooding that caused the deaths of at least 13 animals in the Lake Superior Zoo on Wednesday. Three birds (a turkey vulture, a raven and a snowy owl) as well as six sheep, four goats and a donkey named Ashley are believed to have died after a creek overflowed; the zoo grounds also suffered extensive damage. The raven’s body has not been found and it is thought that it may have flown away, as Sam Maida, CEO of the Lake Superior Zoological Society that oversees the zoo, told the StarTribune.
Kingsbury Creek runs through the middle of the zoo and its waters had started rising on Tuesday but zoo staff noted “nothing major,” says Susan Wolniakowski, the zoo’s director of guest services. She also said that security guards were keeping watch at the zoo until late at night. But after they left, the creek became blocked and “everything went haywire,” as Wolniakowski told the Star Tribune. The waters rose so high that they filled the seal exhibit and one seal, Feisty, swam right out. A polar bear, Berlin, ended up at the top of her exhibit; zoo staff sedated her with a stun gun before moving her to a safe area.
Feisty ended up on Duluth’s Grand Avenue, where a resident, Donald Melton, found her at 3am in the morning. She and another seal, and Berlin, are all being moved to St. Paul’s Como Park Zoo as a precautionary measure. Other animals, including brown bears and lions, are being quarantined at the Lake Superior Zoo’s animal care building.
Zoo officials said they have emergency measures in place and that these are regularly practiced. But PETA is charging that the Lake Superior Zoo was negligent in allowing 13 or 14 animals to die, says the Star Tribune, and is demanding that Duluth City Attorney Gunnar Johnson charge the zoo with animal cruelty:
“It’s difficult to imagine the terror that these animals experienced, having no way to escape as the water engulfed them,” said Daphna Nachminovitch, PETA vice president of cruelty investigations.
PETA said the zoo violated the Minnesota cruelty to animals statute, which defines “cruelty” as “every act, omission or neglect which causes or permits unnecessary or unjustifiable pain, suffering or death.”
Kristin Simon, senior cruelty caseworker for PETA, points out that the Lake Superior Zoo had experienced a similar incident in 2010 and that flash flood warnings had been issued in the area.
Johnson has made a preliminary review of the matter and said on Thursday that, so far, he does not think the charges are warranted. Noting that “a water structure (culvert) didn’t work and it failed and that failure caused a series of events that led to the loss of these animals,” Johnson said that what happened was an “act of God.”
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Photo of a polar bear at the Duluth Zoo by Loimere