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Penguins welcome public back to partially reopened Calgary Zoo

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

CALGARY - The popular Penguin Plunge was one of the exhibits on view as the Calgary Zoo welcomed visitors Wednesday for the first time since the animal park was heavily damaged in last month's flooding.

The zoo's partial reopening also included the Canadian Wilds and Prehistoric Park displays.

There was a long lineup of eager families bursting through the gate.

"I want to see the penguins," said four-year-old Kennedy.

"I'm very happy."

One of the few bright spots for the zoo since the devastating floods in June has been the birth of a baby gentoo penguin July 7. It is the first penguin hatched at the zoo since the Penguin Plunge opened in February 2012.

"I would say right now the penguins are still one of the hottest areas of the zoo. We have a penguin chick which is getting very big, very fast, but that's been a really neat story through all of this," said zoo spokeswoman Trish Exton-Parder.

"It just shows people that the circle of life still does continue down here."

The zoo has had to find new homes for dozens of animals, has closed several buildings and has laid off about 300 employees.

The reopening only affects about one-third of the park. The rest won't be open until at least December.

The park is located on St. George's Island east of downtown and not far from where the Elbow and Bow rivers meet. It was hit hard when raging water rose swiftly after torrential rains in southern Alberta in June.

Forty buildings, including the African Savannah exhibit, were severely damaged.

The disaster has been hard on the facility's pocketbook — $160,000 a day in lost revenue.

"This is our busiest time of year ... from May to October that is when we have most of our visitations, so it's substantial and we had $50 million in damages as well," said Exton-Parder.

"We have a lot ahead of us still, but we have a lot of very motivated people who are really anxious to get things up and running again."

Wednesday's visitors were thrilled that the zoo is open again.

"Absolutely we wanted to be back her to show our support for the zoo and we've been missing it like crazy. I stay home with the kids so anything that gets us outside on such a nice day we're gung ho to do," said Christal McEwen.

"My first concern was the animals. I didn't think that they would recover this fast and to be open this quickly with even a portion of it. It was just sad to watch everything that happened in Calgary and surrounding areas," added Bonnie Scholes.

The zoo was forced to move 160 animals to higher ground at the height of the flood. Zebras were moved to the zoo's wildlife conservation centre outside the city. Two hippos almost escaped when high water levels lifted them close to the top of their enclosure.

Giraffes that were standing up to their bellies in cold water were ailing after the flood, but recovered. Two peacocks, a pot-bellied pig and a variety of fish died.

The zoo soon came to realize that the South American exhibit was too damaged to be restored. Its animals are being shipped to other accredited zoos in Canada.

"It was pretty desolate. It's only through pictures that people can fully understand that it was a river flowing through the zoo. We suffered an awful lot of damage and unfortunately some of our animals had to leave," said Exton-Parder.

"It was a really tough time for everybody, but there's an awful lot of passion here and a desire to have the zoo back for the city."

The Calgary Zoo is known for its conservation and captive breeding programs.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/the-canadian-press/130731/penguins-part-welcome-calgary-zoo-partially-reopens-after-fl