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Zoos weather Katrina well

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(CNN) -- While New Orleans officials were saying that Hurricane Katrina's death toll would likely be in the thousands, the city's animal centers fared better, with only a pair of river otters reported dead at the Audubon Zoo and a whooping crane lost at the Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species.

"From what I understand, we didn't take any water," zoo spokeswoman Sarah Burnette told CNN. Most of the damage to the zoo -- which houses about 1,200 animals in natural habitats -- appeared to be limited to uprooted trees and plants, she said.

A crocodile from the research center was missing, said Rhett A. Butler, a conservationist and founder of the Web site mongabay.com.

The Audubon Center for Research of Endangered Species is several miles from the zoo on New Orleans' West Bank.

Burnette said the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, at the foot of Canal Street on the Mississippi River, suffered no major structural damage.

However, the aquarium reportedly has lost at least a third of its fish.

The American Association of Zoo Keepers said Sunday that other zoos in the Gulf Coast area fared well too, though the threat was not over.

"We are thankful that most of the reports we have received about the zoos and aquariums in the area are hopeful," the association said on its Web site. "It is still too early to assess the full impact and the danger is not over yet for some areas. Flooding continues to be a problem and is actually increasing in the worst-hit areas."

Burnette said the zoo took pointers from the Miami zoo after deadly Hurricane Andrew struck in 1992, then the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history.

"We have worked closely with Miami MetroZoo ever since Hurricane Andrew, and we totally revised our hurricane plan after talking to them. We have a protocol we go through whenever we know something's brewing," she said.

In anticipation of Hurricane Katrina, the New Orleans zoo stockpiled fuel, food and other supplies, Burnette said. When it hit last Monday, the staff fled to the sturdy reptile building and raided the cafeteria for food. Some staff remained at the zoo, she said.

"We did plan well, but I think we also were really fortunate to be on the natural bank of the Mississippi River," Burnette told CNN. The land is on higher ground than other parts of New Orleans, which is several feet below sea level. In the center of the zoo is a 28-foot, man-made "mountain" that was built decades ago when lagoons were dug, she said.

Meanwhile, the 211-member American Zoo and Aquarium Association began a fund-raising initiative, headed by the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, to provide relief.

The association posted on its Web site what it knew about the status of zoos in the hurricane's path:

  • New Orleans (Audubon Zoo), Louisiana: Audubon Nature Institute executive staff continue to assess the impact of Hurricane Katrina on all Audubon facilities. Audubon staff are working round the clock on recovery efforts.
  • Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Zoo: The zoo has electricity but there are brownouts. There are lots of trees down, but no animal losses. They already are cleaning up.
  • Alexandria, Louisiana, Zoo: No animal loss.
  • Jackson, Mississippi, Zoo: The zoo suffered slight building damage and has about 35 trees down. No injuries to staff or animals. About half the zoo has power.
  • Birmingham, Alabama, Zoo: The zoo was without power for a day, but power is restored. Trees down, but no animal losses.
  • Montgomery, Alabama, Zoo: The zoo has some electricity, has trees down, but no animal losses.
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