Sunday, October 5, 2008

Non Essential Personnel

Hurricane Ike reduced me to Non-Essential Personnel!

It’s not as bad as it sounds. The Sunday that Hurricane Ike raced through Illinois produced two days of torrential rain that dropped over 8 inches of water on the ground.

Brookfield Zoo experienced something that had never happened during their entire history—the zoo didn’t open for business.

I’m a docent at the zoo and it was my duty day. I received a phone call an hour before my sign in time alerting me to the problem at the zoo. Security requested that all non-essential personnel be cancelled.

Most flood victims worry about rising water because of damage to property. At the zoo, keepers worried about flooded moats. When the moats at certain exhibits, (big cats, wolves, and polar bears), fill to the top, those animals could swim out to “our” side of the exhibit!

There was an occurrence years ago when the polar bear moat filled with water to the point where the two bears were able to swim to fence and climb over with ease. I didn’t volunteer there at the time but the story goes that the park was already opened and filling with visitors when someone alerted security that a polar bear was loose at Bears Grotto.

The park is prepared for most contingencies and an immediate evacuation took place.

The rest of the story in the telling and re-telling sounds like a hoot. I don't know how much embellishment has occured but the story is that three keepers in a golf cart drove to the flooded exhibit. One rode shotgun (literally carrying a tranquilizer pellet prepared for a bear size animal) while the other drove and the third laid a path using polar bear comfort food (fish and more fish) back across the fence.

At the same time keepers from inside the exhibit were stocking the area near the door to off exhibit with more lures. The dilemma was how to coax these huge land mammals back across the moat and into their den before the water level dropped and the bears were trapped outside.

The plan worked and the two bears decided to go for the “picnic basket” instead of roaming for food. Whew!

So when the call came that Sunday morning you can imagine my first question. Rose answered before I finished asking. “The bears were brought in hours ago!”

An ounce of prevention worth 1,000 pounds of cure!

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