AUSTIN (KXAN) — While Central Texans recovers from this month’s ice storm and influx of downed trees and other debris, a group founded by Texas officials has provided relief to some furry friends over at the Austin Zoo.
Zoological Disaster Response, Rescue and Recovery (ZDR3) was founded in Texas in 2019 following Hurricane Harvey. Julia Wagner, executive director of ZDR3, told KXAN the organization is designed to provide relief and assistance before, during and after significant incidents, like natural disasters.
Here in Central Texas, Wagner said the Austin Zoo had been a core part of ZDR3’s development from the beginning; the organization has since expanded nationally, with 130 facilities across 30 states in ZDR3’s network.
“Every year, we’ve had response work, different responses each time,” she said. “It’s hurricanes, floods, ice storms, and we’re looking at continuing to expand over this coming year.”
When this month’s ice storm led to significant outages and a surge in downed trees, relief for the Austin Zoo came in the form of assistance from the San Antonio Zoo and Animal World & Snake Farm Zoo in New Braunfels, with help from the Fort Worth Zoo on standby.
Once a facility requests assistance, ZDR3 averages a 36-hour deployment time to send resources to the impacted zoo. Once on scene, ZDR3 brings a chainsaw crew to assist with any downed trees, as well as works on getting electricity back up and running and evacuate animals, if needed.
“Really, the goal when you’re doing with a zoo environment is, as much as possible, keeping the personnel who manage those animals day to day and having them be the ones maintaining their animals,” she sad. “We come in and help supplement and augment support where it’s most needed in their operation.”
Support efforts vary depending on the situation and its severity. In Austin, it was a daylong response; for others, ZDR3 has run as long as 10-day operations.
In addition to grounds work and animal welfare assistance, ZDR3 also helps with mental health services and support for zoo crews amid long-term recovery efforts.
As the organization has grown, Wagner said it’s been amazing to see so many zookeeping personnel from across the country collaborate and help out in times of crisis. Recently, Hurricane Ian’s damages in Florida led to a 40-institution response effort to help facilities get back on their feet and keep their animals safe.
“When it comes to the matter of disaster and caring for animals, folks really bottom line on the fact that we need to come together,” Wagner said. “And it has been so inspiring and remarkable to be able to help bring that about.”
For Wagner, she said Texas will always hold a significant place in her and ZDR3’s heart, with the organization founded by her and directors from the Fort Worth Zoo, Animal World & Snake Farm Zoo and the Frank Buck Zoo.
“Texas is where we really have our stronghold,” she said. “And so it was really wonderful to be able to provide support to our colleagues in Texas during their time of need, and we will continue to do so whenever the call comes.”