You may have noticed that it rained a lot last week. I think it actually rained every day, as I worked outside in it quite a bit. I don’t know about you, but when it rains that much, I try and think of all the good things that will come from it, instead of just focusing on the fact that I can’t seem to dry out. And while it’s good to think of these benefits to the rain, sometimes there are negative results that may never occur to you. Now, the obvious negative effects are flooding, power outages, trees down and lots of mud, among others. But last Thursday morning, Mikey and I encountered something that I had never thought about!
This is an old picture of Erin, one of our former keepers, and our wonderful volunteer, Donald. Although it's not a recent picture, I thought it told the story of working in the rain quite well!
The morning started out as any other morning in Explore The Wild: We threw food to the bears from on top of the cliff while making our way to ETW (the area where ETW is built used to be a large rock quarry, so our bear and wolf exhibits both have rock cliff in them), and then we stopped at lemurs to clean the glass at Inside Viewing, check on the lemurs, and check the temperatures in the house. Then we made our way over to the wolf exhibit to check on our male wolf and walk the fence. We walk our wolf fence daily to make sure there is no digging, no breaks in the fence, or tree limbs on top of the fence. We checked the electric fence first to see what it was reading. This is good to do before you walk the fence, so that you know to look for something wrong if the voltage is reading lower than normal. On this particular morning, the fence was reading “zero”. It’s pretty normal for our fences to read lower than normal when it’s been raining, but it should never read zero. So Mikey and I set off to find the source of the problem. It didn’t take us long to find, as we rounded the corner to the fence by the holding cages and were stopped in our tracks by a large rock slide that had occurred overnight. No doubt, the slide was brought on by a combination of the natural effects of erosion, and the large amount of rain that we had received throughout the week.
Although it’s not a good thing that we had a rock slide fall on our wolf fence, I must admit that it was an impressive display of geology at work. I also couldn’t help but think to myself that we prepare for all sorts of disasters with our job, but never once had we trained for a large rock slide. It just goes to show that you never know what to expect in this line of work!
So Mikey and I started to assess the damage: there were large rocks leaning on the fence, and the fence was bowed in, but it was still intact and the wolf was safely contained in the exhibit. So what was causing the fence to short out? We kept looking, and soon found the problem. There was a spot where the fence was being pushed in so much by the large rocks that it was touching the electric wire and causing the short. I radioed Sherry and explained the situation to her, and she promptly came down to assess the slide with her own eyes. Mikey and I finished walking the fence to make sure there were no other issues, and then stayed with Sherry while she devised a plan of action. Of course, the first thing to do was get the rocks off the fence. Some of our awesome exhibits guys were called and they drove the Bobcat over to help move the large rocks easier. Anything that could be moved by hand was done so. Although the rocks were still in large chunks, they were literally crumbling as they were being picked up. So for some of the larger rocks, the facilities guys broke them down with a sledge hammer first.
It took the majority of the morning, but the exhibits guys did an excellent job of moving all the large rocks off the fence. Mikey and I had to take care of shoveling away some smaller stuff, and then hosing all the dirt and small rocks out of the holding pen in order to check the very bottom of the fence. Everything was still intact, even if it looked a little battered and bowed in. The electric fence also started working again, so we were fine. But it made for an interesting morning on a day that started out “normal”!
This was after some of the larger stuff had started to get moved with the Bobcat. The fence behind Jim is where the electric wire had shorted out due to the rocks pushing the fence in. If you look closely, you can see one of the electric wires running across the fence.