Though the fire was burning miles away, then in Mountain Shadows, the staff at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo watched closely. In those late June days, no one knew which way it was going to move.
But if the zoo had been threatened, they knew how they would move.
"We have emergency plans for just about anything," says Katie Borremans, public relations manager. "Fire is just one thing that we prepare for."
The zoo's emergency fire plan has been in place for years; the staff drills it annually. Essentially, the plan lays out the responsibilities of every staff member, some responsible for emptying the 146 acres of guests, others for collecting valuable paperwork, and plenty for seeing to the animals.
While the fire raged, many people contacted the zoo, asking if staffers were evacuating the 800 animals; some regional zoos reached out with offers to take in those animals. But Borremans points out that moving them comes with "a lot of risk: The best-case scenario is keep the animals where they are."
Roxanna Breitigan, one of three animal care managers, explains that many animals are vulnerable to capture myopathy, a life-threatening condition caused by restraint. Also, the instinct of hoofed animals, such as giraffes, is to run if they're being herded, which can easily lead to injury. (The last time they moved the giraffes, it took three days.)
"It's just not feasible to move a large amount of animals," says Breitigan.
And it's not necessary, says Borremans.
For example, though the zoo is nestled into a wooded area west of The Broadmoor, its giraffe yard, with its large dirt expanse and no overhanging trees, is considered defensible space. And if the giraffes couldn't stay there, they could be moved into their barn — a large, concrete structure with a dedicated power supply and a way to cut off ventilation, so smoke wouldn't be an issue.
The elephant barn and yard are similarly defensible spaces, says Borremans, and the hippos, primates and tigers are pretty safe, too.
Also, in the basement of the giraffe barn are pens that could house numerous smaller animals: lizards, fowl, wallabies, penguins, bald eagles, porcupines. Basically, Breitigan jokes, it's a modern-day ark. Crates are set up in sheds throughout the zoo, and personnel annually drill moving these crates to safe areas.
Every animal could be moved or secured within a day, says Borremans. But included in the plan is a priority list.
While the chickens rank pretty low in priority, the black-footed ferrets, an endangered species, would receive immediate attention in an emergency situation.
Could they foresee euthanizing any animals?
"It's just not something that we would ever do," Borremans says.
Breitigan's husband, Jamie, oversees food for the animals. If the fire department would allow it, up to 10 staff members could stay on the grounds, in the commissary. Breitigan points to a row of a large, blue Tupperware containers that are filled with MREs (ready-to-eat meals), head lamps, deodorant, water and toothbrushes.
"In a worst-case situation," he says, "we'd be able to stay and feed, water the animals."
"The animal-care staff are just so passionate about these animals," says Borremans, "I can't imagine what it would be like to lose something like this."
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