The pooling water continues to rise, first covering their small hooves before climbing higher, clutching their stomachs in its cold embrace. Back peddling and splashing through the water, searching for a foot hold on higher ground, the barnyard stock focus on the immediate threat, instinct not allowing their eyes to search nearby for their keepers. Soon it will be over, early reports will officially list 11 animals as drowned, including Jeb the dwarfed goat, sheep, and a donkey. The zoo’s staff will be left to pick up the pieces, searching for bodies days after the rains stop and flooding continues to plague the grounds.
The above scenario played across my mind’s eye as I read news reports from Duluth, MN, following record rainfalls that dumped nearly a foot of water over several days, most heavily this past Tuesday and Wednesday. Flash flooding advisories and recounts of extensive property damage continue to grab headlines. The news of animal deaths due to drowning at the Lake Superior Zoo have polarized animal welfare advocates and zoo-goers since the initial reports spread across the web.
An early timeline of events has flood warnings issued by the National Weather Service as early as Tuesday.
Questions abound in chat rooms and on the zoo’s Facebook page where supporters and detractors clash.
Supporters overwhelmingly defend the zoo’s response as compassionate, quick, and responsible. The media reports detailing the late night to early morning pursuit of escaped animals, including two seals and a polar bear, are cited repeatedly. The same reports are referenced by others questioning why the animals were not under watch following flood advisories, why domesticated farm animals were not transported to a safer location, and a possible lack of disaster preparedness by zoo officials.
Better Safe Than Defensive
As a veteran of animal welfare services, I have seen and participated in a fair share of responses to natural and man made disasters, some hands-on and many others as a press spokesperson. Natural disasters, including flooding, fire, blizzards, earthquakes, and so forth frequently come with little warning. On several occasions while working for the Massachusetts SPCA, I assisted with and publicized the evacuations of animals in response to severe weather reports including hurricanes, ice storms, and flooding. In many cases, those reports never proved true, however in the cases when disaster struck, our staff was well trained and most importantly the animals were safe.
I too have many topics of discussion for the Lake Superior Zoo’s administration ranging from disaster team training to 24 hour monitoring of your grounds and the animals in your care. As the facts come out, as they inevitably do, over the course of more in-depth reporting, it will be interesting to see how the communications staff responds. After all, it’s not a question of love or caring, it’s a question of competency.
What do you think about the response by the staff at the Lake Superior Zoo? Was it appropriate or should extra measures have been taken? Let me know in the comments section below.