Giant hailstones that pounded the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo on Monday injured 21 people, including 10 employees, sending three staffers and two visitors to a hospital, Zoo President Bob Chastain said Tuesday, updating the counts.
The hail killed two of the zoo’s 750 animals: a 13-year-old rare Cape vulture named Motswari and a 4-year-old Muscovy duck named Daisy.
Sixteen more animals were injured, and a meerkat couldn’t be found Tuesday afternoon.
“For perspective, 12 of those (animal injuries) were low-priority for us, meaning if they have a small drop of blood on their finger, they were counted on that list,” Chastain said. One is high-priority — a Rocky Mountain goat with an eye injury — and three are considered medium priority.
Zoo staff do not suspect that the meerkat escaped, as its enclosure is completely contained.
“Those animals dig natural burrows underground, and it will be very difficult for us to confirm whether that animal is underground, sort of nervous and waiting, or whether something happened to it while it was underground,” he said.
Four buildings — the Monkey Pavilion, the administration building, Primate World and the Scutes Family Gallery — were most severely damaged, with shattered skylights, Chastain said.
The zoo will be closed again Wednesday, as are summer camps for the rest of the week. Refunds will be issued to summer camp participants.
The El Pomar Foundation on Tuesday approved a $100,000 grant to help the zoo recover from the devastating storm.
“The damage goes way beyond that, but the fact is, this will help Bob (Chastain) and his staff in the recovery effort,” said Bill Hybl, El Pomar’s chairman and CEO.
Tow trucks slowly removed hundreds of damaged cars from the zoo’s parking lots. At least 300 cars weren’t driveable, zoo spokeswoman Jenny Koch said Monday.
By Tuesday evening, 184 guest vehicles and 49 staff vehicles remained in the lots. Security will monitor them until 5 p.m. Thursday to prevent theft, the zoo tweeted.
About 3,400 people were evacuated from the zoo Monday and taken in city buses to nearby Cheyenne Mountain High School, which was turned into an American Red Cross shelter.
Zoo officials said they were shocked by the rapid, unexpected onset of the storm and scrambled to get people and animals to shelter.
Estimates of the hailstones’ size varied. The National Weather Service in Pueblo confirmed reports of 2.75-inch hail at the zoo, “though larger hail is possible.”
“Even animals that use their on-exhibit dens and shelters on a daily basis were prone to confusion by the fast onset of the storm, and also suffered confusion by the onslaught of hail,” a news release said.
The zoo tried to minimize animal injuries but, “human life-safety had to be our first priority.” The zoo’s Sky Ride was evacuated in time, likely preventing further injury, Chastain said.
“It takes a little while to get animals in,” he said. “When the storm circled around and popped back over the mountainside at us, immediately we were seeing hail in this range.” He cupped his hands to indicate the size of a baseball.
“That’s when our employees received injury. They ran out to get their animals in. They were holding things above their heads, wearing hard hats, those sort of things. But when you get hit by a hailstone that big, they were not able to get them.”
But while “we’re always interested in doing better, and we’ve already started some of those conversations today,” the zoo’s incident command system worked, he emphasized.
Amid reports that another storm would roll through Tuesday afternoon, animals were brought inside, and employees and cars were sheltered. But “we saw very little rain and hail here today,” Koch said in an email.
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