Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Zooz gives the bear facts

RAY SPITERI / Osprey News Network Local News - Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Willy's escape from the Zooz animal park last week has "opened the eyes" of local emergency services and made the Stevensville theme park more aware of its responsibilities to the public, says Fort Erie Fire Chief Jim Douglas.

Douglas is putting together a report for town council next month outlining what municipal resources were utilized in the search and apprehension of the 135-kilogram Syrian brown bear.

He will meet with Zooz officials, Niagara Regional Police and other emergency personnel to formulate a detailed plan in the event a similar animal escape occurs again.

"This incident really flew under our radar," Douglas said, who was on scene with about 40 volunteer firefighters and dozens of police officers to assist with traffic control and help inform residents living in the immediate area of Zooz about what was going on.

Willy took a tour of the backfields in Stevensville after he burrowed his way under his enclosure at the popular tourist attraction around midnight last Tuesday. He was captured 15 hours later less than 500 metres from his home at the park.

Tim Tykolis, general manager of Zooz, said the family-owned business has an emergency preparedness plan in place but it has not been laid out for public emergency services.

"We look forward to meeting with everyone and getting a protocol on all of our files so that something like Willy's escape won't happen again. We want to cover all emergencies, including potential escapes, medical issues, fires and more," he said.

"We will do whatever it takes to ensure our animals remain here, our visitors can enjoy a peaceful and fun day out at the park and that the surrounding community feels safe."

Tykolis spoke at a town council meeting Monday where he thanked members of the Fort Erie Fire Department, Niagara Regional Police and the Niagara Falls, N.Y. sheriff's department, which deployed a helicopter to conduct an aerial search of the Stevensville area to find the runaway bear.

He also apologized for the interruption the incident caused to neighbouring residents and businesses, as roadblocks were set up at either end of Stevensville Road and on a number of side streets and back roads during the search.

Zooz has reopened except for a rear portion of the park that contains two bear exhibits housing four bears, including Willy. An additional backup system to Willy's pen is being installed - a special enclosure surrounded by a three-metre-high chain-link fence with a strand of electrified wire.

"We have already reinforced his enclosure and the parks perimeters," Tykolis said.

"Starting (today) and lasting four days, we will put concrete against the enclosure and install a fence liner about three feet under the cage."

Along with Willy burrowing his way about two feet under the cage, there was also a malfunction of the electrical system within the enclosure, Tykolis said.

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