Disaster Planning for Zoos and Aquaria: How Far Have We Come or Should We Go?
Although there is controversy in the scientific literature, Oxfam International and the United Nations both believe that climatic disasters are increasing particularly those on a small to medium scale. Tsunamis, hurricanes, floods, ice storms, droughts, fires, earthquakes, pandemics and foreign animal diseases are some of the types of disasters that can cause damage on a large or small scale and can occur with some or little warning. Recent large-scale disasters such as Hurricane Katrina or avian influenza outbreaks have caused a surge in disaster preparedness and response worldwide. As seen with several large-scale disasters, the welfare of animals especially pets and other valued animals such as those kept in zoos and aquaria have become a critical issue when evacuating individuals or communities.
As disasters may occur without any advanced notice and at any time, zoos and aquariums would be expected to have protocols in place that look after the welfare of their guests, their employees and, one hopes, their many animal species. This places huge responsibilities and stress on the management and staff as they must sort through the ethical dilemma of putting priorities in place. Several questions must be answered and circumstances considered depending on the type of disaster and geographic locations of the facility. A zoo might be within a large area of wildfires or an aquarium might face the onslaught of a hurricane. In situations where their animals have open access to the natural environment, a local outbreak of foreign animal diseases or even the quarantines accompanying such an outbreak can have catastrophic consequences for the animals in their collections. During a disaster of any scale, what are the reasonable expectations when it comes to saving large numbers of animals or species found in today’s zoos or aquariums, some of which might be highly endangered or threatened? Present ‘disaster response plans’ to various types of disasters from many of the existing zoos and aquaria in Canada show that regarding the animals themselves, very little other than ‘shelter in place’ plans exist. What about alternatives, such as preplanned evacuations in order to preserve the integrity of the species in the collections. Do we plan now and think outside the box, or are we best served to react once that disaster hits, hoping that ‘sheltering in place’ is enough to save the exhibits. A view from the outside—looking into Noah’s Ark, is there a leak below the waterline?