They went two by two…
With Prague under threat of flooding over the last two days, many have been working around the clock to ensure that people are evacuated safely and flood defences erected quickly. But spare a thought also for those people at Prague zoo who helped to evacuate around 1000 animals in one single night, in order to take them to a safer areas on higher ground at the zoo, or to other nearby zoos.
The zoo is currently closed to visitors but aims to re-open again as soon as possible. The animals are expected to return once the Prague zoo is safe and free from flood waters.
The zoo’s popular group of gorillas are actually housed in a specially built anti-flood tower, which was built on to the gorilla pavilion in anticipation of flood threat. The zoo keepers have to use a boat to reach to reach the tower in order to feed and care for the animals. But the gorillas are safe and have a 2 metre reserve where they can pass the time until the floods recede, which now looks likely top be soon. However, should the flood waters have risen further, the gorillas too would have to be evacuated.
Once the flood waters hit, the zoo soon became submerged. The zoo lies outside the central area of Prague – the are where much of the flood protection had been set up. It was therefore imperative that the animals be taken away to safety. Lions and tigers were sedated and lifted into their transportation boxes, while other animals were herded or coaxed into various cages, baskets or boxes for their onward journeys. The operation was such as success and went so well that all the animals made it out safely, with the one rumoured exception of a flamingo that suffered a fractured leg.
The Prague Zoo came under intense criticism when the last heavy floods hit Prague in 2002. It seems the zoo was unprepared for such a catastrophe and many animals suffered and died as a result, including a birds, reptiles, a sea lion, a lowland gorilla, a hippo and an elephant. The death of the elephant in 2002 was particularly disturbing. The 33 year old Indian Elephant was trapped in the zoo elephant enclosure whilst the flood waters were rising. Despite efforts, the zoo’s animal keepers weren’t able to rescue him and decided to kill him humanely rather than let him drown.
“It’s a terrifying feeling to experience this all over again,” Petr Velensky, the zoo’s reptile specialist, said.
The Head of Prague Zoo, Miroslav Bobek said damage was already being estimated at 160 million Czech crowns. He also told Czech Radio:
“The situation is very similar to 11 years ago. While the water has not risen quite as high, we are very concerned that the damage to buildings, pavilions and equipment will be almost the same to that of 2002. It is a tragedy for us.”
“Many of our animals, if they haven’t been relocated yet, will have to be transferred to zoos in Plzeň and Liberec. We estimate that the renovation of the lower part of the zoo will cost 160 million crowns, if funds will even be available. It is questionable whether animals such as the gorillas should even return to the zoo’s lower levels after that. Prague Zoo is protected by a flood wall meant to keep back 20-year floods: we saw now that it wasn’t enough.”
In media reports regarding severe flooding we are used to hearing about people being evacuated. For example, a whole town in Alaska (Galena) was recently evacuated as a result of flooding. 50,000 people were displaced in Somalia last month as a result of the terrible floods there.
Evacuating people is a huge undertaking and most likely involves the authorities or even the military working under intense pressure to move as many people as quickly and safely as possible away from the danger. But next time you read about an evacuation from flooding, spare a thought for those people working on an evacuation of a slightly different kind.