Flooded zoo sends animals to Tanganyika

As a female lion sat in a pool at Tanganyika Wildlife Park on Thursday, she splashed and chased her tail in a circle.

"Pretty girl, what are you doing? Playing in the water?" asked park owner Jim Fouts.

The lion arrived at Tanganyika in the first week of June with a group of animals from the Roosevelt Park Zoo in Minot, N.D. The Souris River flows through the zoo, and officials feared the water would come over the dike.

Three weeks later, Fouts said it doesn't look like the animals are going home anytime soon. Water flooded over the levees Wednesday as thousands of people evacuated their homes.

When the animals arrived, Fouts said zoo officials were hoping the visit would only last four to six weeks in a best-case scenario.

"As it stands now, they're pretty much thinking that their season is gone," Fouts said. "You know it's going to be well into the fall before they're cleaned up."

When Fouts received the panicked call from zoo officials who thought they had 12 to 18 hours before the river flooded, he said the park wanted to do what it could to help the animals and the zoo.

"They needed to find someone who could get there and especially move the giraffes because that's a difficult thing to do," Fouts said.

The park transported three giraffes from the zoo in a special trailer made to carry them. The trailer rises to 17 feet as the giraffes enter but lowers for the trip so the trailer can pass under bridges. The giraffes ride leaning slightly over, Fouts said.

Besides the giraffes, Tanganyika is housing two lions, a Siberian tiger, a Bengal tiger and two Amur leopards from North Dakota. The zoo sent the big cats to Kansas in boxes in an unspecialized trailer, Fouts said. The zoo transported other animals to zoos in Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota and kept some in a warehouse in Minot, he said.

Tanganyika had the space to house the nine animals because it had emptied an off-display area set for renovation.

"It worked perfectly," Fouts said. "It's not like everybody's got a spot to stick a giraffe."

The park decided to separate the animals from its animals for space and health reasons. Because the North Dakota animals are living separately, when they return home they should more easily meet testing requirements, Fouts said.

The park plans to put the giraffes in a yard where Tanganyika visitors can see them from a distance. The rest of the animals will remain off-display.

If people would like to see them, Tanganyika stays open later until 8:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. Fouts said they plan to start offering special tours of the animals that night, now that the animals are probably staying till fall.

Tanganyika is paying the animals' expenses, but Fouts said the park will probably receive some reimbursement. He said the park's motivation to help stemmed from the animals, not money. It has housed visiting animals in the past, but not on this large a scale, Fouts said.

As the park director greeted the giraffes Thursday, he offered them food and observed carefully as they moved around. He said the entire group is adjusting well.

"They're doing great," he said. "They really are."