Berne Animal Park (BAP) is located at the border of the Aare river and partly covered by mixed forest. In the last 20 years, BAP experienced four natural disasters: two river floodwaters occurred in 1999 (11th to 22nd of May) and 2005 (23rd to 28th of August), and two winter storms emerged in 1999 (Lothar, 26th of December) and 2018 (Burglind, 3rd of January), respectively. In all instances, an immediate target-oriented course of action was of paramount importance. First, a precise evaluation of the situation was crucial, followed by clear guidance of relevant internal (animal care, communication, and financial department) and then external players (fire service, police, army, medical service, wildlife guard). The main responsibility was always in the hands of BAP staff to guarantee the best decisions for the institution. The zoo veterinarian must be ready to handle, anesthetise, and treat diverse animals for evacuation, and his inputs are important when mixing different species from a sanitary and welfare point of view.
River floodwaters in 1999 required partial closure of BAP from the public for several months. 177 zoo animals had to be immediately evacuated and temporarily accommodated. Two European beavers (Castor fiber) escaped.1 Within 11 months, parts of the flooded area were converted into a unique floodwater-safe alluvial enclosure that is seasonally drained by a branch of the Aare river. Donations of the high public solidarity yielded nearly a third of the requested funds to realise the enclosure. In the 2005 floodwaters, this enclosure withstood as planned, but up- and downstream areas were heavily flooded again. Eighty-eight (88) animals had to be evacuated, and three coypus (Mycastor coypus), two Eurasian otters (Lutra lutra) and several European beavers (Castor fiber) escaped due to off-line electricity supply. Whereas the potentially invasive coypus could be caught quickly, the latter two native species temporarily disappeared. Years later, the Eurasian otters recurred in a monitoring program for the species locally extinct in the wild.2 Lessons learned from these second floodwaters were the construction of mobile waterproof walls at neuralgic points, autarkic electric fencing, and the permanent dislocation of the European bison (Bos bonasus) herd from the river border, since their enclosure was not accessible when flooded. Winter storms led to severely damaged enclosure barriers from uprooted and fallen trees due to windthrow. In 1999, 89 trees fell or had to be cut due to security reasons, and in 2018, 100 trees fell victim. On both occasions, enclosures of large and potentially dangerous carnivores such as European wolf (Canis lupus lupus) and Eurasian brown bear (Ursus arctos arctos) were damaged. Fortunately, the bears were in winter rest and no animals escaped. After immediate temporary repair, the opportunity was used to restructure and refurnish the enclosures.
1. Minnig S, Angst C, Gwenael J. Genetic monitoring of Eurasian beaver (Castor fiber) in Switzerland and implications for the management of the species. Russian J Theriol. 2017:15:20–27.
2. Weber J-M. Suivi des loutres de l’Aar. Kora Bericht Nr. 44f. 2008, ISSN 1422–5123, 27 pp.