Zoo staff risked lives to stop hippo from escaping

CALGARY — Staff risked their lives to stop a hippo from escaping and to usher ailing giraffes to dry ground during the recent flood, a Calgary Zoo spokesman said Tuesday.

CALGARY — Staff risked their lives to stop a hippo from escaping and to usher ailing giraffes to dry ground during the recent flood, a Calgary Zoo spokesman said Tuesday.

“It was a cross between The Poseidon Adventure and Jurassic Park,” said Jake Veasey, the zoo’s director of animal care, conservation and research.

Veasey and other workers spent the weekend at the African Savannah exhibit juggling two challenges at once: moving shivering giraffes out of belly-deep water and securing an angry hippo that had escaped his holding area.

A glass window had to be broken for Veasey to get into a building to tend to the giraffes — skittish creatures that don’t cope well with cold and stress.

The building was so full of murky, brown water that he had to don a wet suit and swim to the back of the building to get to the giraffe enclosure.

At that point, the hippos were still where they were supposed to be, but, just in case, a shipping container was placed over a window that the hippos could have swam through.

Water levels eventually rose high enough for the dangerous herbivores to swim over the tops of their enclosure. Now they were able to move freely about the African Savannah building.

“There was the potential for the hippos to swim out of this building into a flooded zoo and potentially into the Bow River and we could have had hippos God knows where,” said Veasey.

“They could have been 20 or 30 miles downstream.”

Veasey said the powerful beasts could have easily pushed through the glass front doors, so cinder blocks and construction equipment were put there to block their way.

One of the two hippos, an older female named Sparky, stayed put. But a younger male named Lobi was much more adventurous.

“He was having a whale of a time just exploring a much bigger hippo pool than he was used to.”

Lobi stayed at the front of the building for a while, while Veasey and his colleagues were around the back, trying to coax nervous giraffes out of the building and to dry land through an unfamiliar exit.

The zookeepers had to live with the possibility that Lobi could come closer. They had a high-calibre rifle handy just in case.

“They certainly kill more people in Africa than lions ever do. They’re arguably the most dangerous African vertebrate,” said Veasey, who could only tell where the hippo was by the rustling of debris.

At one point, Lobi managed to squeeze through a narrow door into a corridor and found himself stuck — and furious.

“It’s a human being door that you could never comprehend a hippo could go through.”

He said getting Lobi out of the corridor was just about as easy as squeezing toothpaste back into a tube.

Veasey and his team considered cutting out metal work to free the creature, but eventually built him a ramp made out of sandbags so that he could climb over a bar and back to his enclosure.

“Of course he’s an angry hippo and he’s trying to attack us and the sandbags as we’re dropping them in, literally in front of his mouth.”

Lobi did make it over — his hippo hide squeaking against the metal — and the crisis was over.

Keepers are working to hard to keep the giraffes warm and nourished. The zoo is particularly worried about a 19-year-old female named Carrie, who isn’t eating as much as she should be.

“Giraffes are quite delicate animals, despite their size and strength,” said Veasey.

“We’re hopeful that the giraffe are going to pull through, but there is the potential that we may lose animals, including giraffes … as the consequences of that stressful 48-hour period kick in.”

So far, at least two peacocks that were free to roam the zoo grounds have died.

In the mayhem following the flood, the birds crashed into objects and broke their necks.

The zoo also had to make the difficult decision not to rescue 140 tilapia fish that were in the hippo enclosure, because doing so would have taken too long and taken attention away from other animals.

Six of the zoo’s 12 piranhas also died.

Most of the zoo’s animals are currently crowded into facilities elsewhere on the property in less than ideal conditions.

“We’re now dealing with problems that are going to start arising due to stress, due to confinement and the sooner that we can remediate exhibits to bring animals back into their home enclosures, we can relieve stress on the animals.”

Clement Lanthier, president and CEO of the zoo, said all the animals’ enclosures will need to be inspected before they can return.

“We’ll have to make a decision very soon if those spaces are not safe and sound. We’ll have to start relocating some of our animals to other zoos,” he said, adding that several other zoos have offered help.

He said it would be at least two weeks — possibly longer — before the zoo can open. It might be able to reopen in phases.

On Tuesday, many areas of the zoo were dry, but others were caked in thick mud. The island on which it’s situated was still without power, but generators were humming.

The zoo’s main restaurant, the Kitamba Cafe, was a mess, with leaves and branches strewn about. The kitchen was so damaged it will need to be gutted.

Hundreds of metres of fence need to be replaced after huge chunks of land eroded into the Bow river.

“The landscape of the zoo will change dramatically,” said Lanthier.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Lyn Radford, 2019 Canada Winter Games board chair, was named 2020 Sport Event Volunteer of the Year at the Prestige Awards. (File photo by Advocate staff)
WATCH: Lyn Radford wins award for volunteer efforts

The board chair of the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer… Continue reading

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Red Deer dips below 300 active COVID-19 cases

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Red Deer continued to drop… Continue reading

A candlelight vigil will be held in Red Deer on Thursday to honour the 350-plus people killed in the Easter bombing attack in Sri Lanka. Contributed photo
Candlelight vigil planned for deaths linked to Olymel COVID-19 outbreak

A candlelight vigil is being planned for those who died due to… Continue reading

Red Deer Rebels forward Jaxsen Wiebe battles Calgary Hitmen forward Cael Zimmerman for a loose puck when the two teams squared off in February last season. (Photo by BYRON HACKETT/Advocate Staff)
Calgary Hitmen shutout Red Deer Rebels

Rebels name centre Jayden Grubbe team captain ahead of Friday’s game

Bryson, six, and Mara, eight, play with puppies from Dogs With Wings Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
WATCH: Dogs With Wings introduces Red Deer program

A program that trains puppies to be certified service, autism, facility and… Continue reading

Walter Gretzky father of hockey hall-of-famer Wayne Gretzky waves to fans as the Buffalo Sabres play against the Toronto Maple Leafs during third period NHL hockey action in Toronto on Tuesday, January 17, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Funeral for Walter Gretzky to be held Saturday in home town of Brantford, Ont.

The funeral for hockey legend Wayne Gretzky’s father Walter will take place… Continue reading

A sign for the Canadian Security Intelligence Service building is shown in Ottawa on May 14, 2013. A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the judicial warrant process at Canada's spy agency — an issue that made headlines last summer — stretch back at least nine years. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Spy warrant shortcomings stretch back almost a decade, newly released audit shows

OTTAWA — A newly released audit report shows that difficulties with the… Continue reading

In this file photo, a lotto Max ticket is shown in Toronto on Monday Feb. 26, 2018. (By THE CANADIAN PRESS)
No winning ticket for Friday night’s Lotto Max jackpot

TORONTO — No winning ticket was sold for the estimated $29 million… Continue reading

A trial countdown sign marks the days at George Floyd Square, March 4, 2021, in Minneapolis. Ten months after police officers brushed off George Floyd's moans for help on the street outside a south Minneapolis grocery, the square remains a makeshift memorial for Floyd who died at the hand of police making an arrest. The trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin will begin with jury selection on March 8. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
Officer’s trial could reopen intersection where Floyd died

MINNEAPOLIS — During a group’s recent meeting at the now-vacant Speedway gas… Continue reading

FILE - In this Aug. 30, 2020 file photo Portland Police Chief Chuck Lovell calls for an end to violence in the city during a news conference a day after a demonstrator was shot and killed in downtown Portland. Amid protests following the police killing of George Floyd last year Portland dissolved a special police unit designed to focus on gun violence. Critics say the squad unfairly targeted Black people, but gun violence and homicides have since spiked in Oregon's largest city, and some say disbanding the 35-officer unit was a mistake. (Sean Meagher/The Oregonian via AP, File)
As violence surges, some question Portland axing police unit

PORTLAND, Ore. — Elmer Yarborough got a terrifying call from his sister:… Continue reading

Harley Hay
Harley Hay: Just don’t call it cod liver oil

Many people swear that a daily dose of various vitamins is an… Continue reading

Email editor@auburn-reporter.com
Letter: Preserving green spaces in Red Deer

The Advocate published an article Feb. 11 about Sunnybrook residents concerned about… Continue reading

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Former Toronto Argonauts lineman Chris Schultz remembered as a gentle giant

Most Read