San Francisco Chronicle

Endangered bird escapes from Oakland Zoo after storm

- By Sarah Ravani Reach Sarah Ravani: sravani@sfchronicl­; Twitter: @SarRavani

The storms that pummeled the Bay Area this week caused major damage to the Oakland Zoo after a tree destroyed an aviary and six birds escaped, officials said. One of the missing birds is an endangered hooded vulture.

The incident is the latest setback for the zoo, which has lost millions of dollars this year due to closures caused by weather. The zoo relies mostly on admissions and membership­s for its revenue.

“We’ve, of course, been hit financiall­y and it’s been pretty significan­t,” said Nik Dehejia, the CEO of the zoo. “Unfortunat­ely, we can’t control the weather. It’s a significan­t loss for us every day we’re closed.”

The latest storm made landfall Tuesday and caused strong winds, downpours and damage around the Bay Area. In Oakland, 20 trees and branches fell into roadways within an hour, and on Wednesday the city said it was responding to over 100 calls for tree emergencie­s.

Trees also toppled at the zoo, which was closed Wednesday to clear out debris from the storm. One fell on the new aviary, which houses 20 birds and was built in 2021. The tree tore the aviary’s mesh covering, resulting in six birds flying out, said Erin Dogan, the zoo’s vice president of marketing.

All six birds are of African species. The remaining birds in the aviary were brought safely inside, where they’re being held, Dogan said.

Animal crews waited overnight in the rain with nets and crates to try to recapture the escaped birds.

The birds “are choosing to stay within zoo grounds and they’ve not left the zoo,” Dogan said, adding that crews hope to retrieve the birds by Thursday.

“I do think it’s very promising, and we are very pleased the birds are choosing to stay very close by and not disappear,” she added.

In January, rains caused a sinkhole in the parking lot, forcing the zoo to shut down for 34 days. Financial losses from the closure topped $2 million and repairing the sinkhole cost more than $500,000, which officials said they hope the federal government will reimburse.

In February and March, the zoo was closed for a total of 13 days due to storms and lost about $30,000 per day, Dehejia said.

The latest damage to the aviary, which cost a quarter of a million dollars to build, will require at least $200,000 to repair, officials said.

After the pandemic put the zoo in a dire financial situation, Oakland voters in November approved a property tax that will fund the zoo’s operations.

The 20-year tax will raise $12 million a year — a major boost to the zoo’s current $24 million operating budget.

Dehejia told The Chronicle Wednesday that the zoo won’t get that money until the end of the year and has to instead “rely on our existing sources of revenue.”

On Wednesday, crews continued to clear the debris and trees. Dehejia said the zoo hopes to reopen on Thursday.

 ?? Erin Dogan ?? An African Hooded Vulture escaped from the Oakland Zoo.
Erin Dogan An African Hooded Vulture escaped from the Oakland Zoo.

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