A deadly hail storm shut down operations at Colorado Springs’ Cheyenne Mountain Zoo on August 6 and it was with a lot of preparation and enthusiasm that operators of the zoo reopened its doors on August 11.
An afternoon storm on August 6th surprised zoo patrons, employees and animals with baseball-sized hail, harsh winds and downpours. The storm took the lives of five of the zoo’s animals, injured 14 people, left 3,400 people stranded and damaged nearly 400 vehicles that were left inoperable after the storm.
According to a release from Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, the zoo and its staff had been in “sprint mode” in the days leading up to the zoo’s reopening on August 11.
“The storm caused guest and staff injuries, animal injuries and deaths, and extensive property damage,” the zoo stated. “Although permanent repairs will take months to complete, the zoo was ready to welcome guests back on Saturday, thanks to temporary, short-term fixes like tarps and plywood to cover the spaces where skylights used to be.”
Raw video after the storm depicted skylights having been smashed by the massive hail and shingled rooftops being torn apart, as well. Aside from the dents that vehicles normally encounter during Colorado’s hail storms, several vehicles in the parking were seen with shattered windows and windshields and battered doors.
According to Cheyenne Mountain Zoo of the 400 vehicles left inoperable in the main parking lot, a little less than 40 had been removed. Though the zoo warned that vehicles not removed by the middle of this week will be towed to a monitored facility.
“Vehicles have been towed to one corner of the south parking lot, which will allow us to finish removing broken glass and other debris from the pavement in the preparation for guests,” the zoo stated.
Though originally thought to be inoperable until further inspection, staff even managed to get the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Sky Ride - one of the zoo’s main attractions - up and running and fully inspected prior to last Saturday’s reopening.
Another challenge staffers faced was getting the animals back into their normal routine after being shut down for nearly a week.
“Animal keepers were asked to get animals ready to resume ‘life as normal,’ which involves restarting the natural behavior demonstrations that are usually a draw for guests to watch,” Cheyenne Mountain Zoo stated, they added that on Friday some demonstrations were held for “Zoo family” only, so as to ease the animals back into their demonstration routines.
As one of only nine accredited zoos operating without tax support, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo depends on admissions, membership dues and donations or funding, making the storm that forced it to close its doors for four days of operation all the more devastating.
In a release shortly after the storm, the zoo and its staff publicly thanked its supporters for helping them through a dire moment with their continuous support.
“Zoo staff would like to thank all of the members of the community for their outpouring of support, both offers of manual labor volunteers and financial contributions,” the zoo stated through a press release.
Though the storm claimed the lives of a 13-year-old Cape vulture, Motswari, and a 4-year-old Muscovy duck, Daisy. Amidst the confusion three staff members were injured seriously enough to be transported to the hospital and several more staff injuries were reported in the days following the storm.
“Animal staff attempted to assist any animals who needed help to seek shelter, but ultimately, human life-safety had to be our first priority,” the zoo stated. “A number of staff were injured trying to help the animals.”
With the zoo reopening its doors on Saturday, the expectation is guests will continue to the animals and experiences available at the nation’s only mountain zoo. For information about temporary closures, tickets and hours visit www.cmzoo.org.