In August 2002 Prague was affected by a flood and its range and destructive potential had not been witnessed before. As the Prague zoo is situated right on the bank of the Vltava River, almost half of its area was flooded.
On Wednesday, 14th August the water level reached at the deepest places the height of more than 10 metres. Such a thing had not been expected even in the worst forecasts. Our zoo in those days lived through its own Apocalypse.
More than 1,000 animals were moved out of their homes by the water – among them there were hundreds of animal species, from birds, big cats and monkeys to rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses and elephants. Under the extreme pressure of time and in the tense and often even dramatic conditions, the workers of the zoo had to deal with probably the biggest evacuation of animals all over the world. Other Czech zoos played an active part in the rescuing actions. Unfortunately, we did not manage to save all the animals. We evacuated 1,029 animals but the other 134 did not survive the flood. We had to kill four animals ourselves, 40 birds died even a couple of days after the flood due to the stress they had been through.
The flood left and almost half of the area was in unbelievable havoc. More than 20 buildings and expositions were demolished and other 13 were seriously damaged. The power distribution systems did not work. Removing mud, debris and silts itself took months. The operation of the zoo was totally paralysed for some time. The garden was reopened on 7th September; however, most of the affected parts were not accessible for the visitors till the end of the year. The damage was estimated at 232 million CZK.
There was a big question mark above the future of the zoo after the flood. The pressure of the media and the ideas about the restrictions of its operation in the flooded areas could not be avoided. Finally, it was the public who made the decision about its resurrection. People started to defend not only the existence of the zoo but also the evacuation itself and the unbelievable result of the flood fund-raising campaign to help the zoo (20 million CZK) started its hopeful renewal.
We would like to thank everybody who took part in rescuing the animals and helped in any other way – thank you.
THE FLOOD AND THE ANIMALS
During the flood, 1003 of our animals and 26 private animals were evacuated. Out of these there were 101 + 26 mammals, 750 birds with 14 eggs, 141 reptiles with 28 eggs and 11 flying foxes. We set free 46 birds, 2 snapping turtles, 4 sea lions escaped. 3 sea lions, 26 birds and both snapping turtles have been caught back. During the evacuation 8 mammals died (out of these 4 were killed– elephant, hippopotamus, lion and bear), other 6 mammals were found drowned after the water decreased. Altogether 120 birds died, out of these 80 drowned, 18 died due to direct consequences, 12 due to stress and shock states and 10 after their moving to other zoos. 14 birds have never been caught back. 36 mammals, 166 birds and 37 reptiles were moved to other zoos. 2 reptiles were deposited at a private breeder. By the end of 2002, 5 mammals and 124 birds came back.
Among the most important flood deaths there are:
- 1,0 lowland gorilla
- 1,0 Indian elephant
- 0,2 hippopotamuses
- 1,1 Pygmy hippopotamuses
- 1,0 South African sea lion
- 30 waldrapp ibises
- 9 African spoonbills (including the 2 oldest (known and recorded) females in the whole world)
The rescue actions of most of the animals took place in extremely difficult conditions. In 3 hours it was necessary to evacuate 16 tigers, leopards and jaguars. At the last moment 4 gorillas were moved from their flood tower on rafting boats, anaesthetised and laid freely. The way was 200 metres long, across the white waters of the river. A couple of rhinoceroses was moved by a crane to a trailer at the moment when water in the range started washing their anaesthetised bodies. 3 female elephants had to spend 4 days and nights bound to trees in a dry part of the zoo, at a place unknown to them. The breeders had to fight with them for each meter when moving them. The African elephant Sabi has never (i.e. for more than 30 years) left her range. The four sea lions were escaping the rescuers for 2 days. They rescued one of the females at the last moment from an unmanageable whirlpool, from under a bridge. Moving the tens of pelicans, flamingos, penguins, ibises, spoonbills and many other species of birds always a bit higher from the increasing water was a never-ending story.
Millions of people even outside the Czech republic watched closely the life stories of some of the animals. The sea lion Gaston died in Germany after a 300-kilometers long journey in the flooding river. The elephant Kadíra and the female hippo Lentilka had to be killed as the flood set them free from their ranges. The male gorilla Pong did not manage the stay in the flood tower of the pavilion and got drowned in an unknown way. The hippo Slávek survived the flood elevated by the waters to the second floor of the elephants’ pavilion where he spent two days in the narrow corridor of the service gallery, waiting for help.
An extraordinary result of the rescuing action is the fact that throughout the evacuation no animal died or was hurt and that also no people got hurt.
THE FLOOD AND BUILDINGS
The August flood in 2002 hit almost half of the area of the zoological garden. The devastating effects were not caused only by the water itself (at some places there were more than 7 metres of water and its weight worked as a press, at other places there was the stream that became very strong especially after part of the wall of the Troja chateau gave its way), but also by the soft mud that it brought and that got into the smallest slots.
The flood damaged some of the objects so much that it was necessary to demolish them completely:
- The block of flats
- The object for breeding little insects
- The restaurant Koliba
- Parts of the technical object, mainly the administration part
- The object of the lecture hall with the offices and the rear rooms for the breeders
The objects damaged by the flood:
- The pool (the dorm for pelicans)
- The theatre Ark in the children’s area
- The refreshment and the toilets in the children’s area
- The dorm for lemurs
- The aviary for budgerigars
- The shop At the hippo
- The refreshment At the Pygmy hippos
Partly demolished objects:
- The area of pheasantry – The wooden objects were moved away from their bases and it was necessary to repair the aviaries and build new wooden dorms.
- The Gočár’s houses – two historic wooden buildings (protected by the state) that served as a flat for employees and guest rooms. It was necessary to remove the roofs and uncover the construction so that the rotting processes would not start.
- The pavilion of water birds (also called Bechyně’s) that had been closed down for several years due to its poor state. The metal construction and the walls were damaged. The pavilion will be reconstructed as a so-called Sichuan.
- The winter refuge for water birds – a small object with hatchery for the birds. The whole roof was shifted and a complete reconstruction was necessary.
- The pavilion of big cats. The pressure of water tore and moved the ferroconcrete walls of the ranges and the inside glass dorms were damaged. The pavilion will be reconstructed including the terrariums and the central atrium.
- The pavilion of big tortoises – the water took away the green roofing of the pavilion and the mud got into the internal spaces of the polycarbonate boards so they will have to be changed.
- The pavilion of big mammals – the water pressure cracked the walls of the outside pool of the hippos, the sand in the elephants’ range got contaminated and it had to be changed and the walls had to be decontaminated.
- The pavilion of penguins and the exposition of sea lions – at the sea lions the view footbridge was moved during the flood and it broke several glass panes of the pool, both expositions will have to be reconstructed.
- The vegetable garden and the greenhouses – the water pressure broke the glass panes of the greenhouses and damaged the metal skeleton, parts had to be pulled down.
- The cable car – the bottom stop was devastated as the machinery was flooded.
Other results of the flood:
- In the whole flooded area, the vegetation and the ranges were devastated seriously.
- The water works were seriously affected – the water feed from the Vltava river was damaged, the wells of household water were contaminated, the pumps were damaged and the well at the tortoises’ pavilion was permanently damaged.