Helping the animals survive the flood didn’t require a boat this time, but it did involve eight staff members scrambling in the pouring rain to move about 20 creatures to higher ground.
Water rose quickly over the weekend at the North Georgia Zoo in Cleveland as another summer rainstorm hit.
“It created a major flash flood. ... So it happened really fast and it ended really fast,” zoo director Hope Bennett said.
And zoo staff hadn’t thought anything about a forecast for more rain, with the way the weather has been this year. This time was different, though.
Bennett called a code red as she watched the creek rising between the hills, and employees got to work checking on the animals, which include livestock, as well as, camels, birds, kangaroos and many other exotic species.
“It was crazy hectic. It was absolutely insane,” Bennett said. “I am a mom of an infant and a toddler, so I put raincoats on them to go down there and help kind of direct things. ...The rain was coming so fast, and we had to check every enclosure and make sure to figure out which ones were flooding out and which ones weren’t.”
Water was flowing through some habitats and inching closer and closer to others. Damage to the habitats that would allow animals to escape was one key concern, so even animals like otters and seagulls had to be moved.
The less water-savvy animals like miniature pigs did surprisingly well in the situation, though, Bennett said.
“We did find out that pigs like to swim, because we went to get them out of the house and (the) house was floating and they jumped in and swam to shore,” she said, laughing.
Other animals that had to be moved included hawks, a kookaburra, kangaroos and two types of South American rodents, pacas and cavies.
Bennett said all the animals were moved and accounted for within an hour. The creek rose again the next day and the animals were moved once again. The staff planned to move the animals yet again overnight just to be safe.
It helped that the major flooding happened during normal hours, so plenty of staff were around to help.
“I was very impressed,” Bennett said. “I was out there just because I have the most experience ... so I knew what to look for and a lot of that, but they did great. So I was mostly just making sure nothing was missed, and they didn’t miss a beat.”
She noted a contingency plan was in place that guided their operation.
The storm did damage parts of the zoo, felling trees, tearing out bridges and washing out a road used for the camel encounter.
The zoo now is in need of gravel to repair the roadway and is looking at putting in some retaining walls and doing something to prevent the creekbed from eroding.
“The goal really is to be back open by Saturday, and I think we’ll be able to,” Bennett said, noting it’s supposed to rain more this week, so that could change.
The National Weather Service is forecasting a slight chance of rain today but an increasing chance heading into the weekend, with a 60 percent chance of rain Saturday.
She said those who wish to volunteer, donate or keep up with when the zoo is able to reopen, should check the zoo’s website, myfavoritezoo.com.