Several animals have died at a zoo in Minnesota after heavy rainfall brought severe flash flooding in the early hours of Wednesday.
Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth, around 100 miles north of Minneapolis on the Wisconsin border, was badly hit by the flooding which also closed roads and flooded homes, police said.
All but one inhabitant of the zoo’s barnyard section died, a miniature horse named Darla being the sole survivor.
“We had sheep, a pretty beloved donkey, goats,” said zoo spokesman Keeley Johnson. “All but one of the barnyard animals are deceased.”
The donkey, named Ashley, had been with the zoo for five to 10 years. Darla, the miniature horse, survived by “swimming her heart out”, according to Johnson.
“It’s been a pretty traumatic, horrible day. It’s been pretty tough. I got here at 4am this morning. Words can’t even describe it at this point. It’s pretty sad.”
The City of Duluth police department issued emergency notifications overnight as northeast Minnesota received more than six inches of rain in 24 hours. Several roads were “washed out”, city spokesman Pakou Ly told the Guardian, while the I-35 highway was also deemed “impassable”.
Police evacuated homes in low lying areas of the Duluth, but were left helpless as sections of the 400-animal-strong site were quickly submerged.
The Polar Shores exhibit was one of the worst hit areas, as water from the nearby creek flooded to the top of the section.
Two seals – named Feisty and Vivienne – were able to swim clear of the exhibit, however their time clear of captivity proved to be shortlived as they were soon apprehended by local police.
The seals swam through a culvert under Grand Avenue, which runs parallel to the zoo, before appearing on the opposite side of the road, Johnson said.
Other Polar Shores animals were able to survive within the compound. Despite rumours to the contrary, the zoo’s polar bear, Berlin, did not manage to break free, although her exhibit was flooded.
Berlin took advantage of the floodwater to clamber onto the rock wall which surrounds her enclosure, Johnson said, but there was no bid for freedom.
“She didn’t wander very far from her exhibit,” Johnson said. The zoo vet was easily able to locate Berlin on Wednesday morning, using a tranquiliser dart to sedate the bear before removing her to safety.
The zoo is also home to three lions, one siberian tiger and a grizzly bear, although their exhibits were not threatened by the flood.
Staff are now concerned that there may be more losses to come.
“The flood is still here so we won’t even able to assess the situation any further until the flood goes down,” Johnson said.
“There are a few bird exhibits located right in the middle of the flood. We anticipate that they are gone, but everyone still has hopes that they might pull through.”
[Flooding in the Duluth area of Minnesota via intolerantraindrop / Instagram]