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Zoo exhibit damaged by downed pecan tree (video)

By Jessica Priest
April 29, 2013 at 8:02 p.m.
Updated April 28, 2013 at 11:29 p.m.

A large tree, weakened by the recent rains and gusty winds, toppled into the Texas Zoo's primates exhibit, causing significant damage.

A rocky enclosure where Texas Zoo patrons can often find an energetic troupe of baboons climbing ropes was invaded Saturday - but not by a predator.

An 80-foot pecan tree that was rotten from the inside out crashed through the north side wall of the baboon exhibit and busted water pipes in a nearby pasture where deer roam on its way down.

That's why the Texas Zoo was closed Sunday and Monday. Workers needed time to mop up the mess.

The zoo will reopen at 9 a.m. Tuesday.

Luckily, the eight baboons were not inside the exhibit during the storm, and no one was hurt, said Amanda Rocha, the zoo's executive director.

The baboons, which are anywhere from 20 to 40 years old, were in what is called their "bedroom," a 45-foot-by-24-foot cinder block building approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It is secured by a metal door and multiple locks.

That is where the baboons will remain for about two more days until sanctuary volunteers arrive to pick them up.

It doesn't make sense to keep them in Victoria because it may take anywhere from three to six months to repair the damage and secure their play area, Rocha said.

"Baboons are primates, so they are extremely intelligent," Rocha said, noting they like to play with phone books and other toys in the enclosure. "They're just like us. If you were stuck in your bedroom all day without a TV or a phone, you would be pretty miserable."

An insurance adjuster has not assessed the damage, but Rocha estimated it could cost about $40,000 to fix.

She said if the structural integrity was compromised though, that number could jump to about $150,000. That price would include replacing the baboons' "bedroom," which also sustained some damage to its roof during Saturday's storm.

"We're not financially prepared for this," Rocha said.

The zoo is a nonprofit that raises money via admissions, fundraising and educational events.

The city of Victoria also provides it with $150,000 annually.

"We're a nickel and dime organization," Rocha said.

So, projects such as tripling the size of the lion exhibit may be delayed.

Construction for that project was supposed to start in May, and, so far, the zoo has raised $70,000 of the required $92,000.

That money may be rerouted to fix the baboon exhibit, but donations that specified they were to go to the lions will not be touched.

Rocha said the zoo had already considered replacing the baboons with an animal native to the Lone Star State, such as a black bear.

She thinks the visitors enjoy watching the baboons interact with one another but was not sure if anyone would miss them.

"Anytime this rain comes, we are so thankful, but again, we hope nothing like this happens," Rocha said.

Anywhere from 200 to 600 schoolchildren visit the zoo daily.

Three years ago, another pecan tree fell on a the primates exhibit, but the damage was not as extensive.

Baboons are a near threatened species. They have 4-inch canine teeth and opposable thumbs, so Rocha considers them to be as dangerous as a lion or a tiger if they were to escape.

They weigh 21 to 37 pounds and dine on grass, seeds, roots, bulbs, fruit, insects and small animals.

The National Weather Service in Corpus Christi recorded 1.7 inches of rain Saturday and Sunday at the Victoria Regional Airport.

Port Lavaca, meanwhile, received 1.43 inches of rain during the same time, said Ian Blaylock, a meteorologist intern at the organization.

Blaylock said there is a 20 percent chance of isolated showers in Victoria on Tuesday, with a high of 82 degrees and a low of 65 degrees.

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