Your guide to flooding (and rebuilding) at the Calgary Zoo

Jul 31, 2013

As you know, the Calgary Zoo was badly damaged due to the devastating flooding that occurred in southern Alberta in June of 2013. We had to close our doors for close to six weeks to recover and after a lot of hard work, we were excited to partially re-open on July 31.

Things are different at the zoo now – and we know you have a lot of questions. About what happened during the flooding and what it means for the zoo’s future. About how your favourite animals are doing, and about what it will be like to visit the zoo as it re-opens.

We’ve put together this guide to provide you with those answers. We’ll be updating it regularly, so check back often. And we’d love to hear from you, so join the conversation on our Facebook and Twitter.

Thanks for supporting us through this difficult time and into the future. We look forward to seeing you at the zoo!

Calgary Zoo flood facts

When did the flood occur?

The flood in Alberta began its significant rise on June 20th, 2013, and continued to rise overnight into June 21st.

How did the flood affect the zoo?

The Calgary Zoo is located partially on St. George's Island, a 32-acre body of land in the middle of the Bow River by downtown Calgary. The river surrounding the zoo rose and covered most of the island during the time of the flood, causing significant  land and property damage, and loss of power.

How did the zoo react?

We monitored the water levels as the government gave rising water warnings, and reacted accordingly. The public was evacuated from the zoo midday on June 20th, 2013, with only the necessary staff remaining to evacuate the animals. Over a span of 8 hours overnight of June 20th to June 21st the staff from every department worked together to move 160 animals to higher ground.

Where were the animals moved?

Animals that didn't have higher ground within their enclosures were moved to the Animal Health Centre on the north side of the zoo. The zoo's two zebras were moved to the zoo's Devonian Wildlife Conservation Centre outside of the city, and two pot-bellied pigs were moved to a veterinary facility offsite.

Were the big cats moved to the courthouse?

No. That was a contingency plan left in reserve by the zoo. The big cats (snow leopards, tigers and lions) were not moved to the courthouse at any time. The big cats that needed to be moved were kept at the Animal Health Centre. Staff from Discovery Wildlife Park loaned equipment, manpower and crates to help move them during the flood.

Did the hippo escape?

It wasn’t possible to relocate the hippos, Lobi and Sparky. They never left the building. The water levels inside the African Savannah building rose high enough for Lobi to swim around outside the hippo enclosure inside of the building-- but he never left the Savannah building.

What happened to the giraffes?

It wasn’t possible to move our giraffes, Carrie and Nabo. They were moved to back holding areas, and stood in a significant amount of water before it receded back into the river. They were cold, but were taken care of the by the staff and have recovered.

What happened to the elephants?

It was simply not possible to move the elephants, Spike, Kamala, Maharani, Swarna. They were moved inside their building, which only saw a few inches of water.  Their enclosure has dried out and been cleaned- they’re doing fine!

Did any animals die?

Unfortunately some animals did die during the flood, but the zoo was lucky that it was so few. Due to loss of power, fish tanks were unable to maintain their standard conditions, and so a number of cichlids in the TransAlta rainforest building died, as well as some piranhas, and the tilapia that lived in the hippo tanks.

We also lost four peacocks – most of our 12 peacocks evaded collection by our staff during the evacuation. And a pot-bellied pig later died from the stress of the situation.

What are the damages?

There is significant water damage over 40 buildings on the island, affecting electrical, plumbing, and some life support systems. Those buildings, while varying in each location, must have new drywall, flooring, electrical, plumbing and other aspects repaired before they can be safe for the public again. Many animal enclosures were also damaged and must be repaired and cleaned before the animals can safely return to them. The damages are estimated at $50 million, with another $10 million of estimated operating losses.

What happened to the South American building?

The South American building  was one of the oldest buildings at the zoo – after reviewing the flood damage, the zoo determined the building was not worth restoring. In order to provide a safe space for the animals in that building to live, they have permanently been sent to other zoos. We are sad to see them go, but want to do what's best for the animals in the long term.

Can I get updates on the animals that I can’t currently see at the zoo?

Yes! We know you love the animals and want you to know that we’re taking great care of them. So, we’ll be posting regular updates on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

Fast facts about the Calgary Zoo’s re-opening 

Are you fully closed?

The Calgary Zoo at this time has cancelled all formal events until December, and was closed until July 31st 2013, when it partially re-opened. The rest of the zoo will remain closed until late November 2013.

What is included in the partial re-open?

The July 31st re-open features the open of the Penguin Plunge, the Prehistoric Park, the Canadian Wilds and the Karsten Discovery Centre. The area open is roughly 60 acres, which is approximately one half of the zoo.

What is there to see in those areas?

A lot! Penguins (including our new gentoo chick) in the Penguin Plunge, as well as cougars, black and grizzly bears, wolves, owls, big horned sheep, caribou, whooping cranes and otters in Canadian Wilds… just to name a few! There are 162 animals in the re-opened area to visit. 

What are the hours of operation? 

The zoo gates are open to the public from 10AM-4PM daily. The zoo closes at 5PM.

When will the zoo fully re-open? 

At this time we expect to be fully re-opened by end of November, 2013.

There are fewer areas open. Does that mean less people will be admitted to the zoo?

Yes, the capacity of the re-opened zoo is 2,500 people.

How much will it cost to go to the re-opened zoo?

Admission is $10 and children ages two and under are free. You can purchase direct-access tickets through Tourism Calgary.

Zoo memberships: Do I have an extension? Can I renew? Can I purchase a new membership?

To acknowledge our loyal members who stuck by us during the flood we have extended all memberships that were active on June 20th, 2013 for three months!

If seeking to renew your membership, our Guest Relations offices are open again! You can renew in person, or over the phone.

New memberships can be purchased over the phone or in person, and there are a number benefits available to you with your new membership. Some benefits may be postponed due to damage - please be patient!

I've heard that some animals are leaving the zoo. Why are they leaving? Is this a permanent move?

There are some animals leaving us permanently, all for individual reasons. Our Asian elephants, as we announced last year, are being relocated to facilities that have more space for them to live, and a larger herd of elephants. We've learned more about elephant behaviour and have realized that we cannot provide the space and the herd size that would make them happiest - and we want the best for them!

Our old South America building was due to be replaced a few years down the line in our 20-year master plan, but the flood severely damaged the building to the point where it was condemned, and the animals were not safe living there. We decided to move them to facilities where they can have a safe and comfortable home, while we move into construction.

So while the flood damaged the zoo greatly, the animals leaving are not leaving for monetary purposes, but for the good of their welfare in this current situation. 

I'm a ZooGala ticket holder. ZooGala 2013 has been cancelled. What does that mean for me?

We are now able to provide refunds and/or receive a donation for your Zoogala tickets. You have three options:

1. Receive a full refund for your ticket(s).
2. Donate the value of your ticket(s) towards helping rebuild the Calgary Zoo.
3. Split up the price of you ticket between a refund and a donation.

For all of the above options, please contact our Guest Relations Call Centre at 403.232.9300 and press 2. Let them know how you would like to proceed. If you do make a donation, you will receive a tax receipt for any amount above $20.00.

Please understand that we have sold 1,000 Zoogala tickets and are also processing other forms of refunds, therefore you may experience longer than average wait times.

Thank you for supporting Zoogala 2013 and we hope to see you for ZooGala 2014!

I’d like to donate to the Calgary Zoo to help with rebuilding. How can I do that? What types of donations are needed?

We really appreciate those who are donating to help us get back on our feet. Donations can be received in a number of ways. We are accepting donations through CanadaHelps. Buying tickets, or purchasing and renewing your memberships are also great ways to help us rebuild the zoo.

How are donations used? 

Your donation will be directed where it is most needed and can have the greatest impact. Right now, donations help the zoo in three important ways.

First, donations can help cover the costs of flood damage that aren’t covered by insurance (total damage is currently estimated at $50 million).

Second, donations may help cover our operating losses – we will lose about $10 million over the next several months because of the flood.

And third, your donation can help build new buildings and features; because we’ve had to demolish some buildings sooner than planned, we must now accelerate what we thought in April would be a 20-year master plan for development.