Dakota Zoo Implements Plan for Evacuation in Case of Flooding

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Wild animal attacks might make you think twice about the creatures at your local zoo.

A man was mauled to death by a tiger Wednesday overseas in the Republic of Georgia.

It was one of the animals that escaped when severe flooding damaged a zoo there.

Majestic to look at; dangerous to encounter. Tigers and other wild animals escaping their enclosures is the last thing a zoo wants to see, but flooding can pose that risk.

"We have a very good flood plan, and so we're going to be reacting before that would take place," said Dakota Zoo director Terry Lincoln.

That plan was upgraded after the zoo got a taste of the challenges it can bring.

"During the 2011 flood and evacuation, we were basically going as far as Minnesota and South Dakota to get crates that were suitable to move a bear or a lion or tiger; something like that," Lincoln said.

A fatal encounter in the Republic of Georgia forced officials to put down a white tiger after it killed a man Wednesday. The tiger was one of many animals that escaped a zoo damaged by flooding.

The real potential for flooding at the Dakota Zoo is overflow from the Missouri River, and the priority is to evacuate the animals, which is easier said than done.

Lincoln says the zoo would need to round up the animals and coordinate with other zoos on where they can be transferred to.

A flood map is used, showing elevations which helps point out high risk zones. The National Weather Service says a major concern is below Garrison Dam in the event of historic rainfall.

"Because Garrison Dam will tend to capture a lot of the rainfall, but anything below that will flow into the Missouri and Bismarck," said meteorologist Nathan Heinert.

Protecting the animals becomes key in these cases, and it's just as important for the zoo itself.

"And most of that is just day to day maintenance, checking fences, is there a spot where the wolves are digging and so do we have an under-fence there," Lincoln said.

The busy season for the zoo has just begun, and Heinert says this summer we should expect to have normal chances for precipitation, and low chances for escaping due to floods.

Lincoln says off the top of his head he can recall at least two animals escaping from the zoo.

One was a wolf about 20 years ago that jumped the fence from a large snow bank. It was captured two days later at a golf course and did not harm anyone.

The other was a macaw that was also recaptured without injury.