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New York's wildlife, pets suffered in Sandy too
by Staff Writers
New York (AFP) Nov 5, 2012

From Mitik the walrus calf to Ashley the poodle, New York's wildlife, zoo animals and pets went through their share of drama during superstorm Sandy, experts and owners said Friday.

While weather forecasters were warning their human audiences of the oncoming hurricane, New Yorker Richard Geist says his fluffy white Maltese poodle Ashley already knew.

"She knew it was coming. She behaved really oddly when it was approaching. She hid under the bed and a chair," Geist, 42, said as he walked his pooch.

When the storm hit, knocking out power to Geist's home in lower Manhattan, the clothing store owner moved in with friends uptown. His stressed-out dog "didn't eat for two days."

There was animal commotion on a larger scale at New York's zoos, which began reopening Friday after going into emergency shut down through the storm.

The city aquarium in Coney Island was still closed after severe flooding.

Pictures released by the Wildlife Conservation Society, which manages the zoos and aquariums, showed extraordinary scenes of chest-high flood water in rooms where captive fish were swimming on the other side of nearly submerged glass screens.

In one picture, aquarium equipment is seen floating across a muddy pool of water, with an exhibit on the octopus, "Armed but Not Dangerous," in the background. Another shows the entrance to the seahorse exhibit barred by deep, murky water.

The Wildlife Conservation Society said it was amid a "24/7 effort" to restore operations at the aquarium and was considering evacuating the marine life, just as tens of thousands of people have had to evacuate their low-lying homes over the last week.

The biggest concerns were about an orphaned walrus calf called Mitik that was rescued in Alaska and brought to New York in fragile health in October, though he seemed to have come through the storm unscathed.

Jim Breheny, executive vice president of the city zoos and aquarium, said that Mitik "weathered the storm without incident and seemed interested and amused by all the activity."

"Our adult walruses, sharks, penguins, sea turtles and sea lions all did well in the storm. Our fish collection is also doing well, as we have been able to maintain temporary life support on our tanks," he added.

However, evacuation remained possible. "This decision would likely be made in the next 24 hours," he said Thursday.

Officials say zoo animals came through unscathed.

At the newly reopened Central Park Zoo, the snow monkeys were back to sunning themselves and picking fleas, the red panda sat shyly on a tree branch, and two swans paddled peacefully across a pond.

Gus, the zoo's famous polar bear, lay down with a paw over his face, as if grieving, although that may have been something to do with the death last year of his beloved mate Ida, which zoo watchers say has left the big male depressed.

Swedish tourist Jann Ihrfelt, visiting with his children, said they'd walked past the zoo's petting section the day after Sandy blew into New York and "we wondered how the animals coped with the situation. They seemed to be a little bit stressed."

A father bringing his children to the zoo said he'd been wondering where all the wild animals around his New Jersey home went to during the height of the wild storm.

"The day right after the storm we saw the squirrels in our yard again, and the ducks and the swans, and we wondered where did they all hide?" the father, who did not want to give his name, said. "They're so smart."

According to Paul Curtis, a wildlife expert at Cornell University, wild animals meet varied fates in extreme weather.

"Small animals, like rodents, might have burrow systems and those burrows would likely have been flooded out," he said.

"Larger animals are more mobile, like raccoons or wild deer, and they would have sought higher ground and probably survived the storm itself, but now that it's over they have the stress of being outside their home ranges and in smaller, more crowded territory."

Seabirds and migrating song birds faced being blown hundreds of miles downwind or into buildings and power lines.

The squirrels running around New York's parks, though, are likely fine.

"They probably went into tree cavities to ride out the storm," Curtis said. "The only way a squirrel would be affected is if the tree gets blown down."


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