Refugees find home in St. Paul zoo

  • Article by: MASAKO HIRSCH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 21, 2012 - 9:38 PM

In just 24 hours, Berlin the polar bear and two seals have seen their share of Minnesota.

The animals from Lake Superior Zoo made the journey to St. Paul Thursday and are being kept for now at Como Park Zoo and Conservatory after flooding destroyed their home in Duluth. The flooding also killed at least 13 of the Duluth zoo's animals.

Como zookeepers picked up the animals early Thursday, said Matt Reinartz, Como Zoo spokesman.

For now, the animals are resting in the back of the zoo. Berlin dozed in her new home in Polar Bear Odyssey, while the seals swam in the zoo's aquatic building. They'll be quarantined from the other animals, a standard practice for new additions to a zoo, Reinartz said.

There are no plans to allow visitors to see Berlin, but zoo staffers hope the seals will migrate from the private part of their home to the public one.

The animals' homes were destroyed Wednesday when torrential rain hammered Duluth and a creek in the zoo became blocked.

The water rose high enough that the seals escaped their enclosure. One, named Feisty, was found about 3 a.m. outside the zoo on Grand Avenue. Berlin was found at the top of her exhibit and was sedated with a tranquilizer gun to bring her to a secure area.

All but one of the animals in the barnyard exhibit died in the flooding, including sheep, lambs, goats and a beloved donkey named Ashley.

It's not clear yet how long the animals will stay in St. Paul, but it could be at least a month, said Susan Wolniakowski, Lake Superior Zoo's director of guest services. It's uncertain when the zoo will reopen.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals demanded in a letter to Duluth's city attorney Thursday that criminal charges be filed against the zoo, saying its negligence violated the state's cruelty to animals law. PETA cited a flash flood warning issued Tuesday night, and noted the zoo was aware of problems after a flood there in 2010.

Wolniakowski said in 2010, the zoo filled with over 10 feet of water because a culvert being installed collapsed.

"I don't think anyone could have been prepared for what's happened," Wolniakowski said. "The mayor declared a state of emergency for a reason."

Gunnar Johnson, Duluth's city attorney, said he has no plans to press charges.

Masako Hirsch • 612-673-4263

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