Flood zone: Veterinarian helps coordinate relocation of zoo animals

Flood zone: Veterinarian helps coordinate relocation of zoo animals

Oct 01, 2011

MINOT, N.D. — Officials at the Roosevelt Park Zoo are attempting to rebuild the home of the more than 250 animals displaced as a result of flooding earlier this year.

Built along the Souris River, it was evident the animals at Roosevelt Park would need to be evacuated when the water began to rise in late May. On May 31, the evacuation order was given and zoo employees, including six zookeepers and resident zoo veterinarian Ann Olson, DVM, began working 36 hours straight to relocate the animals.

The county donated a building to house some of the animals. Stalls were donated at the fairgrounds to house others. Zoos from across the country reached out to offer homes to some of the more exotic animals. A local bison ranch stepped in to take the bison, and an alpaca farmer agreed to house the zoo's alpacas.

Residents loaned their personal trailers to help ship animals to zoos across the country, and people donated refrigerators and freezers to help keep food and medications for the animals from spoiling.

Trailers arrived to ship bears and penguins to the Como Park Zoo in St. Paul, Minn., and camels and birds to Hemker Wildlife Park in Freeport, Minn. Zebras went to the Chahinkapa Zoo in Wahpeton, N.D., and large cats and much of Roosevelt Park's petting zoo went to the Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Wichita, Kan. Other animals journeyed to the Dakota Zoo in Bismark and the Bramble Park Zoo in Watertown, S.D.

"We started at 11 a.m. Tuesday and finished at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday," Olson, the zoo's sole veterinarian, says. "A few of us got a little bit of sleep. It was a pretty intense time. The whole time we were evacuating, we were watching the river rise."

The city was able to keep the water from breaching the dikes that night, but it was only a matter of time. As the zoo slowly was bringing animals back to their habitats, the water threatened again. By June 20, a few animals had returned, but another flood was inevitable, and on June 24 the water was spilling over the banks.

This time the evacuation took about 20 hours.

"It wasn't as bad (getting the animals out) the second time," says Olson, who also is employed by the Minot Veterinary Clinic. "But none of the buildings were able to be saved. They have to be gutted and completely redone."

All of the animals survived the initial moves, but a few of the older animals have since died in their new environments. A zebra, which was being monitored at Roosevelt Park Zoo, died of kidney failure after the move.

"Overall, the animals handled it very well and reports from the other institutions indicate they are doing well now," Olson says. "The people of Minot had a lot harder time with it."

Despite the donations and helping hands, the evacuation still came at quite a cost to the zoo, Olson says, adding the cost of the damage is "unbelievable." Flood insurance will cover damage to the larger buildings, but not all of the habitats. The zoo also was in the process of building a new entrance building, which would have been complete at the end of August.

Now, the future of the 91-year-old zoo is uncertain, especially at its current location. City officials have been in discussions to revise the river channel, which could force the zoo to relocate. The 40 animals, such as reindeer, birds and donkeys, which remain at the county-loaned building are in need of a more permanent home this winter.

Still, with a lot of work, the animals could all return to the zoo as early as the spring, Olson says.

Rebuilding the town is another story.

"I see families with little kids, and they want to know how the animals are," Olson says. "With the zoo being closed this summer, it was just one more thing they couldn't go do—one more sense of normalcy taken away."