Flood forces zoo officials into quick action; now better prepared
When flood waters started to creep up the banks of St. George’s Island last summer, Calgary Zoo officials didn’t have an arc to save the animals.
Yet two by two, they still managed to load and relocate 160 animals within just hours of being notified the 100-Year Flood was on its way.
“It was probably about 11 (p.m.) that the Emergency Operations Centre called … saying they wanted everyone off the island,” said Lindsey Galloway, director of marketing, communications and sales with the Calgary Zoo, adding they were told to leave St. George’s by 2 a.m.
“We … were still moving the lions at 1:30 in the morning. And some of our animal care people, let’s be honest, didn’t leave the island. They stayed behind and took care of the animals that were left behind.”
Zoo officials ended up moving 160 animals – averting what could have been a catastrophic disaster, said Galloway. The only losses were the deaths of four peacocks, one potbelly pig and some fish.
“We feel very fortunate that our actions in the heat of the moment helped save most of the animals,” he said. “I personally came back Sunday morning … we went for a paddle around the island. It was very quiet. It was very surreal. It was very disorienting.”
Once the waters began to recede, staff quickly realized “virtually” every building had been affected by the flood waters, while much of the landscaping had been wiped out. The zoo was closed for the remainder of June, as well as July, one of their busiest months, to a revenue loss of $5 million. It didn’t fully open until the public until late November.
Since last year’s flood, the zoo has embarked with the City on developing an 18-month flood-mitigation plan that includes installing berms and walls, a new drainage system and a pumping station. Galloway said the zoo has also been working with the City to reinforce the river shoreline in four different locations along St Georges Island.
“Our plan also is, if in fact there is major flooding, we will create temporary barriers at the multiple locations across the island,” he added. “We have updated our topographical maps which give us the locations of the entire island so we know, based upon the levels of flooding water, what’s vulnerable. So we feel we can build barriers that can help stem the tide so to speak.
“Overall this year, we feel we’re as prepared as we could be. We’re certainly better prepared than last year. We thought we did a really good job last year in responding, but I think we’re even more organized this year and we’ll deal with any situation that comes up I’m sure.”
Photo courtesy Calgary Zoo, Colleen Hnylycia