Polar Bear Escapes Zoo Exhibit During Minnesota Flood

Jun 20, 2012 6:57pm
ap minnesota flooding nt 120620 wblog Polar Bear Escapes Zoo Exhibit During Minnesota Flood

Image Credit: Brian Peterson/ The Star Tribune/AP Photo

The massive flooding caused by torrential rains in northeastern Minnesota overnight wreaked havoc at the Lake Superior Zoo, where several animals died and a polar bear escaped its enclosure in the high water.

Berlin, the zoo’s polar bear, made it out of her exhibit, but did not wander far before zoo officials were able to tranquilize her and get her to quarantine at the zoo’s animal care center.

“Even though it’s a large white object, it’s pretty nerve racking,” said police spokesman Jim Hansen, whose department helped in the search for the bear.

Berlin was not the only animal on the run following the flood. Two harbor seals escaped their exhibit, but were eventually caught and taken to the animal care center.

Other animals were not as lucky. The zoo says six sheep, four goats and a miniature donkey died in the flood. A raven and a turkey vulture are still unaccounted for, and the zoo presumes they too perished.

“[The] entire staff is devastated,” said Peter Pruett, the zoo’s director of animal management.

“Our hearts are broken and we very much appreciate your kindness and compassion,” the zoo said in a statement on its Facebook page. “We assure you we are continually working to maintain the safety and well-being of our beloved animals.”

Zoo spokeswoman Keely Johnson told ABC News that by 8 a.m. the situation was under control.

“We have removed all the animals that are in danger from their exhibits and brought them up to our animal care center and placed them in quarantine,” she said. “We have put our large carnivores in their holding areas in their exhibits so they aren’t able to get out on exhibit.”

According to Johnson, while the zoo drills for animal escapes, nothing could have prepared them for what happened early Wednesday morning.

“This is an extreme circumstance and one that I don’t even think you could be prepared for,” she said. “We will definitely analyze the situation and adapt some of our animal escape drills … to aid us in the future. We definitely learned a lesson.”

The waters at the zoo have not receded and zoo officials say they will not know the full extent of the damage until they do.

“Now just get to wait and hope the rain stops,” Johnson said.

The Associated Press and ABC News affiliate KSTP contributed to this story.

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