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Associated Press, Published June 18 2012

ND zoo animals staying in Kansas awhile longer

WICHITA, Kan. – Animals sent to a Wichita wildlife refuge last year from a North Dakota zoo before a devastating flood are still in Kansas, and it’s unclear when they will return to their former home.

Roosevelt Park Zoo in Minot, N.D., sent more than 200 animals to 15 zoos and the Tanganyika Wildlife Park in Wichita last June ahead of flooding from the Souris River, which flows through the zoo.

The plan was to have the animals at their temporary homes for four to six weeks. But the ensuing flood destroyed more than 4,000 homes several hundred businesses in Minot and ruined the zoo, which was under water for six weeks. It is currently undergoing a major renovation.

The animals have adapted well to their home at the wildlife refuge, said Matt Fouts, assistant director at Tanganyika, said.

“We’ll keep them as long as we need to,” Fouts said. “We offered to help them out. We’re not going to leave them hanging.”

Last June, Tanganyika received three giraffes, an African lion and a lioness, a Siberian tiger, a Bengal tiger and two Amur leopards. Then last fall, the Foutses were asked to take zebras, African warthogs and Southern ground hornbills that had been sent to other zoos that didn‘t have enough winter space to hold them.

Hosting the animals has caused extra work and expense, Fouts said.

When one of the tigers broke a tooth this spring and needed root canal surgery, a vet who specializes in big cats was flown in from California to lead the surgery. And feeding the Minot animals costs more than $100,000 a year, Fouts said. Tanganyika and Minot share the costs.

The Minot animals are generally not on exhibit. A tight budget prompted the Foutses to drop plans to renovate an older area of the park where the animals are being kept and open it to the public.

Meanwhile, three buildings are under construction at the Roosevelt Park Zoo, Director David Merritt said. The zoo website has posted a “cautiously optimistic” reopening date of August 2012.

The first area to reopen will be the North American portion, which will accommodate animals that were kept in Minot.

“They have been living in a warehouse in very decent conditions, but we’d like to get them outside in the sun and the wind,” Merritt said. “It’s simply a matter of practicality and what we could get done the quickest.”

Merritt said he doesn’t know when the other animals will be able to return to North Dakota, but he hopes they won’t need to stay in Kansas for longer than another year.

“The people at Tanganyika have been wonderful,” Merritt said. “We would not have gotten this done, get all the animals out safely, if it weren’t for Tanganyika and the Fouts family.”