Massive flooding drowns zoo animals

Tuesday , March 18, 2014 - 1:45 PM

Masako Hirsch

DULUTH, Minn. -Massive flooding ravaged the Lake Superior Zoo on Wednesday, drowning at least 11 barnyard animals and two birds, forcing zoo staff to chase down Berlin the polar bear and allowing Feisty the seal to swim onto Grand Avenue.

On Wednesday, zoo staff were mourning the lost animals, including the beloved donkey named Ashley.

"That was the most tragic aspect of the flood," said Susan Wolniakowski, the zoo’s director of guest services. "It’s just been a devastating day to lose so many animals at once like that. They’re all our family."

The flooding happened when the natural creek that runs through the zoo got blocked up early Wednesday morning.

All but one of the animals in the barnyard exhibit - sheep, lambs, goats and the donkey - died in the flooding. The zoo also lost a snowy owl and a turkey vulture and possibly a raven, which zoo officials can’t determine whether died or escaped.

The water rose so high that it also filled up the seal exhibit, allowing both of the zoo’s seals to swim out of their exhibit, Wolniakowski said.

Zoo officials received a report at around 3 a.m. that Feisty was on the street outside of the zoo on Grand Avenue. Donald Melton, who lives near the zoo, was driving around inspecting the flooding and street closures. Melton was near Grand Avenue when he saw what he thought was an injured dog on the side of the road and pulled over. When he realized that it wasn’t a dog, "I was dumbfounded," he said.

He kept his headlights on the seal and tried to keep her safe while he tried to get help. He flagged down a passing fire and rescue crew that helped watch over Feisty until zoo staff arrived.

The zoo’s staff was able to capture the seal, as well as its companion. The zoo’s polar bear, Berlin, was sighted at the top of its exhibit. Officials were able to tranquilize the bear and move it to a safe area. Both seals and the bear are safe and secure, Wolniakowski said.

Wolniakowski said zoo officials will evaluate the flooding after the rain subsides to determine if anything needs to be done.

Melton said he went to the zoo Wednesday to try to see Feisty.

"If it wasn’t for me, I think (the) truck would’ve hit her," he said.


)2012 Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

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