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Riverside Zoo prepares for flooding
June 09, 2011 Doug Harris   

Read more by Doug Harris

Directly behind the Riverside Zoo, flooding is already apparent.

As ground water levels are expected to rise along with the North Platte River, Riverside Discovery Center Zoo has been busy addressing the needs of the 180 animals kept on display there.

“With river water levels potentially rising as much as three feet we have moved many of the animals to assure they are safe,” Riverside Discovery Center Executive Director Anne James said.

“With ground water predicted to rise, all the low lying animals have been relocated to other buildings on the zoo grounds.”

New Riverside Zoo Director Peter Halliday started with the zoo this Monday. He has arrived at a hectic time but he has praised the Riverside crew, and according to James, “Jumped right in.”

“What a situation!” James said. “Peter assumed duties this Monday morning at 8 a.m. and things have been non-stop here at the zoo.”

Halliday, originally from England, comes to the zoo from “Gorilla Haven” in Northern Georgia. It was originally planned to move the animals to nearby zoos or other appropriate shelters, but with waters slowly but steadily rising, immediate measures have been taken.

Halliday made an immediate assessment of the situation and agreed with local vets that moving the animals would be too stressful for many of them.

“We are preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best,” Halliday said.

The zoo has stockpiled water and is using a freezer truck donated by the Nebraska Transport Company to store food for the animals.

“Baker and Associates did a civil engineering review Monday and determined the buildings on higher ground will withstand a worse-case scenario,” James said. “All of the animal dens are elevated in the first place, so our chimpanzees and lions can remain in their usual zoo enclosures. We don’t expect any additional water to give them any problems.”

“It is common practice to secure all animals each night in case of a tornado or other emergencies,” James said. “No one wants a lion in their neighborhood.”

Smaller animals from the petting zoo have been taken home by zoo staff for safe keeping. Most of the animals have been placed in the zoo’s quarantine shelter where they can be kept safely.

James said that large amounts of equipment will also have to be moved. Smith Systems Transportation has donated trucks to assist with moving tools and office supplies.

Water and sewage services were cut off at the zoo this Tuesday. Depending upon how the flooding situation progresses it is possible other utilities, such as electricity, may also be temporarily shut down.
The zoo has already borrowed several large containable water storage tanks to ensure a good supply of on-site potable water for the animals.

“This makes our job very difficult. We’ve been in contact with the utilities,” James said.

“The zoo office will remain open as long as we have power, but the zoo itself will be closed many weeks before the water levels recede. We appreciate the public for understanding. Coming at this time of the year we are sure to face lost revenue as this is our best season. It is bad to lose business and the costs of this are uncertain.”

James added that the zoo could use public support. People wanting to help are encouraged to purchase zoo memberships, make direct cash donations, and assist with supply needs. Self-standing generators are needed to keep air conditioning and lights running for the animal dens. Flat bottom boats would also be helpful to transport food and other supplies should the zoo grounds be overrun with water.

“This is a huge task,” James said. “At times like this we have to band together. We’ve been getting great help from the Cities of Scottsbluff and Gering. We appreciate the private donors helping us and loaning vehicles, supplies and expertise. This has been a trying year. We have learned by fire. Everyone is working very hard and I could not ask for a better crew.”

Those who wish to help out can send donations to Riverside Discovery Center at P.O. Box 2321, Scottsbluff, NE, 69361. Anyone interested in volunteering should call Anne James at (308) 630-6236.
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