Polar Bear and Seals Escape after Floods Wreck Minnesota Zoo

Heavy rains in Duluth, Minn. inundated the Lake Superior Zoo, drowning some animals and allowing others to flee.

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Bob King / Duluth News Tribune via AP

Water flows down a damaged street in Duluth, Minn. on Wednesday, June 20.

As heavy rains tore through northern Minnesota Wednesday, buildings were destroyed, neighborhoods were evacuated, and a local zoo saw almost a dozen animals die in floods while others escaped.

Almost two thirds of the Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth, Minn. was covered in water, and two seals and a polar bear left their broken enclosures after up to nine inches of rain fell on the city. No serious human injuries have been reported, but at least eleven animals died when the zoo’s barnyard flooded, Reuters reports.

(PHOTOS: Flash Floods Swamp Duluth, Minn.)

“We’re still not entirely sure how many animals were lost,” zoo spokeswoman Holly Henry told the Los Angeles Times. Those animals confirmed lost or killed in the flood include six sheep, four goats, one raven, one vulture, one snowy owl and a donkey, she said.

The only barnyard animal who survived the flooding was a miniature horse named Darla, who manged to stay afloat by “swimming her heart out,” another zoo spokeswoman, Keely Johnson, said in a statement according to the the New York Daily News.


Peter Pruett, the zoo’s director of animal management, first heard about the flooding disaster when he received a Wednesday morning call that a seal had been spotted on a city street, he told the Associated Press. After discovering that Feisty, a harbour seal, had escaped the zoo, Pruett said he knew there could be a problem “because if the seal’s out, the polar bear very well could be out too.”

Sure enough, a zookeeper discovered Berlin — the zoo’s polar bear — around 5 a.m., just outside of her enclosure. A zoo vet shot the bear with a tranquilizer, and she was moved back into a secure area. All things considered, Berlin’s escape could have been much worse, Pruett said.

“A dangerous animal is out and it’s the middle of the night, and you cross your fingers and you pray to whomever you want to pray to that she’s still there and not terrorizing some other place,” he told the AP. Vivian, the other harbor seal, was later discovered about a half mile away from her enclosure, and she was safely collected as well.

The zoo was closed Wednesday and may be for some time, Pruett said.

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