As the Salisbury Zoo continues to clear away debris and move animals back to their habitat enclosures, zookeepers and the community are mourning the death of Molly, a 15-year-old alpaca.
During the storm, the zoo’s 10 alpacas were let free to find higher ground, but Molly left the herd and was discovered lying in water, suffering from hypothermia.
News of her death sparked a flurry of Facebook comments, including those from Jane Robinson, who lives near the wolf exhibit. She said she called Zoo Director Ralph Piland to ask about the animals and found his response “cavalier.”
On Facebook, Robinson said she was worried the animals were trapped and told the Salisbury Independent she wondered if the facility has an emergency evacuation plan.
It does, as an accredited zoo must, said Mary Seemann, marketing and development director at the zoo.
“We go through these protocols all the time,” Seemann said.
Others commenting on Robinson’s Facebook post spoke against the concept of zoos, saying animals should live in natural environments, and worried that the alpaca died scared and alone.
Piland said he wasn’t being cavalier with Robinson or anyone who called to check on the animals.
The alpacas found higher ground at Holly Circle and a tent was erected to shield them from the rain, he said. Even so, many of them roamed the zoo and grazed, unfazed by the rain since they have warm, thick fur.
“The staff did everything they could do in these circumstances. On the second day of the storm, we didn’t expect it to be as bad as it was. The forecast didn’t indicate it. We relocated some animals to the animal hospital and made a number of accommodations,” Piland said.
“The alpaca exhibit became flooded so we opened the gate and allowed them free access into the zoo … on Thursday evening we had staff in late. They did a check and they did an assessment. Around 8 p.m., everything seemed fine,” Piland said.
Salisbury Mayor Jake Day said he is “absolutely confident” zoo personnel “did everything they needed to do and went above and beyond to protect the animals.”
“Sadly, as a consequence of the storm, Molly died, but the zoo staff was prepared. They moved all animals that could be moved inside, the large animals — the jaguar, the bear and alligator — to inside enclosures.”
Staff wasn’t at the zoo overnight, so the animals weren’t disturbed and to protect employees.
“We had one tree come down previously and another during the evening, so it wasn’t safe. At 4 a.m. Friday, the staff assessed and found the alpaca lying in water. She was hypothermic. We took her to the hospital and started supportive treatment. Her body temperature came up but she was a 15-year-old animal. Alpacas have a lifespan of 15 to 20 years old. She was just so compromised by the hypothermia that she was not able to make it,” Piland said.
A necropsy was performed by a veterinarian and Molly was found to be a good weight and had no visible injuries, Piland said.
No other animals were hurt or died. Prairie dogs appeared to have survived, Seemann said, since zookeepers saw three fresh holes that the animals dug.
Early this week, clean up continued at the zoo, with Salisbury University students joining in the effort. The zoo remained closed through the beginning of the week.
Piland said conditions would be assessed to determined when it would reopen, taking into consideration the approaching Hurricane Matthew.
Reach Susan Canfora at email@example.com.