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Brandon Stahl, Published June 20 2012

Duluth zoo in mourning after loss of animals

DULUTH, Minn. – The animals never had a chance.

The floodwaters at the Lake Superior Zoo rose several feet Wednesday morning, completely engulfing three bird habitats and washing away all of the animals in the barnyard exhibit. By the time the waters receded, zoo staff said three of its birds had drowned, turkey vulture, a raven, a snowy owl; of the barnyard animals, only a miniature horse survived, while six sheep, four goats and a donkey died.

Peter Pruett, the zoo’s director of animal management, likened it to losing “peers and co-workers.”

“If we don’t work with them directly, we won’t have happy, healthy animals and a happy, healthy zoo,” Pruett said.

Overflows from Kingsbury Creek wreaked havoc at the zoo. At one point, the zoo’s seals and Berlin the polar bear were able to escape their exhibits. The polar bear was found near its habitat, was tranquilized and brought to a quarantine area, a building at one of the highest points of the zoo.

The seals went much farther than that, with one of them eventually making its way to Grand Avenue. It’s likely the seal went through one of the culverts to the opposite side of Grand Avenue before heading back to the zoo, when two residents found it.

“The Police Department asked, ‘How good a swimmer is it?’ ” Pruett said. “I said, ‘Unfortunately, too good.’ ”

Both seals were eventually taken to the quarantine area with the help of firefighters and police.

None of the zoo’s dangerous animals made it outside the perimeter fence, according to spokeswoman Keely Johnson.

Pruett said the morning was often tense as he and other zoo staff members searched for the animals and made sure others were OK.

“I can’t give enough praise to the staff,” he said.


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Brandon Stahl writes for The Duluth News Tribune