We were at a zoo in the Midwest this summer when the tornado sirens went off. Zoo employees made sure people were safe in a shelter, but it didn’t seem like the animals were given any protection. We were wondering if a plan to care for zoo animals during a crisis situation is required for zoos?

Answered by Darrell Markum, General Curator, Idaho Falls Zoo

As an accredited member of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the Idaho Falls Zoo does have a catastrophic emergency plan. Because each emergency situation is going to be unique the plan provides basic details to address a variety of circumstances. It describes who is in charge during the event and provides communication directions. It also provides general guidelines on what to consider when deciding how to respond to an emergency situation. Final authority rests with the senior zoo manager on the scene. This person may decide to close and/or evacuate the zoo as needed and will give instructions regarding animal care. The following two examples show the zoo’s basic response as it relates to the animal collection. From your question, we are assuming that the safety/protection of zoo visitors has already been handled.

In the evezoo1nt of a tornado warning zoo personnel will make every effort to secure as many animals as possible in their indoor enclosures. Some of the buildings should be able to withstand a tornado (carnivore buildings, primate and penguin buildings) but even the barns will provide some level of protection. A top priority will be to secure the large carnivores. This will not only protect the animals but also will protect the community from dangerous animal escapes should the zoo be hit. All carnivores and primates can be moved to secure buildings within about 15 minutes. After this, zoo staff will work on moving as many animals as possible into more secure locations. However, not all animals will be moved indoors and many of the buildings would not withstand a direct hit. It is understood that a direct tornado hit on the zoo would result in significant damage and loss. The goal is to minimize the extent of this loss.

An earthquake is a totally unpredictable event. Once the quake is over zoo staff would survey the damage. Because of the possibility of dangerous animal escapes, safety procedures would be implemented. Teams armed with weapons and dart guns would first check and secure the large carnivores. Once this is done, it would be safe for additional teams to begin surveying the damage. The top priority would be to check all exhibits for damage and attempt to contain all animals in their exhibits or holding areas. From there we would go on to address any animal escapes, animal injuries, and also to make temporary repairs as needed.

Are You Ready for a Disaster?
Taking the steps for emergency preparedness ensures that when the unexpected happens, you have at least the basics on hand and you can bunker down until things get better.

Remember the 5 necessities of survival: Water, Food,
Energy, Shelter, Security.
For More Information: READY Idaho, Healthandwelfare.idaho.gov/Health/ReadyIdaho/tabid/1613/Default.aspx

Make an Emergency Preparedness Kit
zoo2Being prepared for an emergency isn’t just about staying safe during a disaster. It’s about how to stay comfortable, clean, fed, and healthy afterwards – when a storm or disaster may have knocked out electricity.

  • Non-perishable food (such as dried fruit or peanut butter)
  • First aid kit
  • Extra batteries
  • Matches in a waterproof container
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, soap
  • Paper plates, plastic cups and utensils, paper towels
  • Water – at least a gallon per person, per day
  • Battery-powered or hand-cranked radio
  • Sleeping bag or warm blanket for each person
  • Flashlights
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Can opener (manual)
  • Local maps
  • Pet supplies
  • Baby supplies (formula, diapers)
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