Feb 112012

The staff of a small zoo situated on a wooded mountain had its worst nightmare become reality one day: a raging forest fire. The fire was too close, and the wind was unpredictable, so the decision was made to evacuate the zoo.

Game wardens and animal control officers from surrounding counties came to lend assistance. Volunteers came to hose the fence lines around the zoo. Farmers, pet shop owners, and veterinarians, called offering shelter for the animals. The zoo director was busy answering phone calls and determining what to remove from the building.

Animal control officers assisted the maintenance man with loading a hawk, several owls and vultures, and a turkey. The two keepers captured and loaded the squirrel and spider monkeys. Lizards, bobcats, and a coatimundi were loaded into the zoo van and whisked away to the veterinarian’s office. The keepers’ cars were soon filled with various small mammals and reptiles. All that remained to be loaded were a pair of mountain lions, several muntjacs, and a 2O-foot-long python.

The veterinarian and the head keeper were preparing to tranquilize the two mountain lions when the fire chief informed them that the fire had been brought under control. Zoo staff were reluctant to believe him at first, for thick smoke was still drifting through the zoo. But, as it turned out, he was correct and they began returning the animals to their exhibits.

By that evening, the zoo had returned more or less to normal. The only reminders of the day’s events were the scent of burned wood and brush in the air and the fire truck parked at the end of the service road keeping a watch for stray sparks. Zoo staff, exhausted from a grueling thirteen hour day, adjourned to a local restaurant to unwind.

The fire, which had burned thirty acres, had come within eighty yards of the zoo before being brought under control. And in its path, the dedicated zoo staff had managed to evacuate three-quarters of the animal collection in less than forty-five minutes with no injuries to either the animals or themselves.

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