Duluth was hit June 19 by torrential rain that caused flooding throughout the city, including at the zoo, the Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune reported Sunday.
That night, an alarm went off around midnight and, following protocol, the zoo's security company notified Peter Pruett, director of animal management, then police.
"[I asked], 'Is this a priority?' And they said, 'Police have been dispatched, and if it's an emergency, they will call you,'" Pruett said, adding he stayed up for about half an hour and didn't hear from police.
Then, at 3 a.m., police received a report from passersby that two seals had escaped. Pruett was alerted to the incident and he headed to the zoo to find that a polar bear had also escaped and six sheep, four goats, a donkey, a turkey vulture and a snowy owl were dead.
Pruett said if the zoo had an overnight security guard or 24-hour surveillance cameras, the 14 animals may not have died.
"I honestly don't know. We would have been able to react a lot quicker," Pruett said. "It would have been something as simple as opening the gates and letting them run free. I'm not too worried about a goat running free on zoo grounds. I would have liked to think that we could save them."
Other zoo officials are not so sure.
"I am not confident that, even had we been here to realize what the problem was, that we could have safely saved the farm animals," said Louise Beyea, zoo veterinarian, "given that it was an incredible amount of water coming down the creek and it was pitch-black. I would have been very hesitant to ask any staff to risk their life."