CALGARY - Staff risked their lives to stop a hippo from escaping and to usher ailing giraffes to dry ground during the recent flood, a Calgary Zoo spokesman said Tuesday.

"It was a cross between 'The Poseidon Adventure' and 'Jurassic Park,'" said Jake Veasey, the zoo's director of animal care, conservation and research.

Veasey and other workers spent the weekend at the African Savannah exhibit juggling two challenges at once: moving shivering giraffes out of belly-deep water and securing an angry hippo that had escaped his holding area.

A glass window had to be broken for Veasey to get into a building to tend to the giraffes — skittish creatures that don't cope well with cold and stress.

The building was so full of murky, brown water that he had to don a wet suit and swim to the back of the building to get to the giraffe enclosure.

At that point, the hippos were still where they were supposed to be, but, just in case, a shipping container was placed over a window that the hippos could have swam through.

Water levels eventually rose high enough for the dangerous herbivores to swim over the tops of their enclosure. Now they were able to move freely about the African Savannah building.

"There was the potential for the hippos to swim out of this building into a flooded zoo and potentially into the Bow River and we could have had hippos God knows where," said Veasey.

"They could have been 20 or 30 miles downstream."

Veasey said the powerful beasts could have easily pushed through the glass front doors, so cinder blocks and construction equipment were put there to block their way.

One of the two hippos, an older female named Sparky, stayed put. But a younger male named Lobi was much more adventurous.

"He was having a whale of a time just exploring a much bigger hippo pool than he was used to."

Lobi stayed at the front of the building for a while, while Veasey and his colleagues were around the back, trying to coax nervous giraffes out of the building and to dry land through an unfamiliar exit.

The zookeepers had to live with the possibility that Lobi could come closer. They had a high-calibre rifle handy just in case.

"They certainly kill more people in Africa than lions ever do. They're arguably the most dangerous African vertebrate," said Veasey, who could only tell where the hippo was by the rustling of debris.

At one point, Lobi managed to squeeze through a narrow door into a corridor and found himself stuck — and furious.

"It's a human being door that you could never comprehend a hippo could go through."

He said getting Lobi out of the corridor was just about as easy as squeezing toothpaste back into a tube.

Veasey and his team considered cutting out metal work to free the creature, but eventually built him a ramp made out of sandbags so that he could climb over a bar and back to his enclosure.

"Of course he's an angry hippo and he's trying to attack us and the sandbags as we're dropping them in, literally in front of his mouth."

Lobi did make it over — his hippo hide squeaking against the metal — and the crisis was over.

Keepers are working to hard to keep the giraffes warm and nourished. The zoo is particularly worried about a 19-year-old female named Carrie, who isn't eating as much as she should be.

"Giraffes are quite delicate animals, despite their size and strength," said Veasey.

"We're hopeful that the giraffe are going to pull through, but there is the potential that we may lose animals, including giraffes ... as the consequences of that stressful 48-hour period kick in."

So far, at least two peacocks that were free to roam the zoo grounds have died. In the mayhem following the flood, the birds crashed into objects and broke their necks.

The zoo also had to make the difficult decision not to rescue 140 tilapia fish that were in the hippo enclosure, because doing so would have taken too long and taken attention away from other animals. Six of the zoo's 12 piranhas also died.

Most of the zoo's animals are currently crowded into facilities elsewhere on the property in less than ideal conditions.

"We're now dealing with problems that are going to start arising due to stress, due to confinement and the sooner that we can remediate exhibits to bring animals back into their home enclosures, we can relieve stress on the animals."

Clement Lanthier, president and CEO of the zoo, said all the animals' enclosures will need to be inspected before they can return.

"We'll have to make a decision very soon if those spaces are not safe and sound. We'll have to start relocating some of our animals to other zoos," he said, adding that several other zoos have offered help.

He said it would be at least two weeks — possibly longer — before the zoo can open. It might be able to reopen in phases.

On Tuesday, many areas of the zoo were dry, but others were caked in thick mud. The island on which it's situated was still without power, but generators were humming.

The zoo's main restaurant, the Kitamba Cafe, was a mess, with leaves and branches strewn about. The kitchen was so damaged it will need to be gutted.

Hundreds of metres of fence need to be replaced after huge chunks of land eroded into the Bow river.

"The landscape of the zoo will change dramatically," said Lanthier.

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  • Calgary Zoo President and CEO, Dr. Clement Lanthier surveying the island.

  • The directors getting a closer look at the island in a boat.

  • Our camels enjoying the sunshine and the fresh air.

  • A look at the elephants in their enclosure, enjoying the sunshine, despite the soggy ground.

  • The directors examining the inside of Kitamba Cafe.

  • The Calgary Zoo's maintenance crew in the staff area, with the administration building in the background.

  • Horticulture staff assessing the impact inside the Butterfly Garden

  • Thank you to CEMA and the firefighters they dispatched to help start the clean up.

  • Inside the ENMAX Conservatory.

  • Looking west from the ENMAX Conservatory on to the Dorothy Harvie Gardens.

  • One of the directors survey the Penguin Plunge Exhibit.

  • Looking out towards the elephant enclosure from Elephant Crossing.

  • The directors surveying the TransAlta Rainforest building.

  • The view looking towards Safari Lodge.

  • A peacock displaying his feathers near the North Gate entrance.

  • The water level at Tribal Treats concession stand.

  • The water level at the Kinsmen Playground.

  • The Calgary Zoo's directors carrying a raft to survey the damage.

  • A view on to the Dorothy Harvie Gardens.

  • Destination Africa, looking towards Safari Lodge

  • More photos from the Alberta flood:

  • Daniel Boddy, nine, helps with the clean-up work as hose lines from pumps drain water from flooded basement in the Bridgeland neighborhood in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, June 23, 2013. Heavy rains caused flooding, closed roads, and forced evacuation across Southern Alberta.

  • Daniel Boddy, nine, helps with the clean-up work as hose lines from pumps drain water from flooded basement in the Bridgeland neighborhood in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, June 23, 2013. Heavy rains caused flooding, closed roads, and forced evacuation across Southern Alberta.

  • A boy crosses a silt covered street in Chinatown as clean-up crews work in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, June 23, 2013. Heavy rains caused flooding, closed roads, and forced evacuation across Southern Alberta.

  • People place sand bags as the river rises rapidly and begins flooding in Medicine Hat, Alberta, on Sunday, June 23, 2013.

  • Homeowner Glenn Tibbles looks at the damage done by floodwaters to his home near downtown Calgary, Alberta, on Sunday, June 23, 2013. About 65,000 residents of Calgary were being allowed to return to their homes Sunday to assess the damage from flooding that has left Alberta's largest city awash in debris and dirty water.

  • Cpl. Brett Martens from CFB Edmonton helps a resident clear out damaged debris from their home near downtown Calgary, Alberta, on Sunday, June 23, 2013. About 65,000 residents of Calgary were being allowed to return to their homes Sunday to assess the damage from flooding that has left Alberta's largest city awash in debris and dirty water.

  • A home is inundated with floodwaters on the Siksika First Nation, Alberta, on Sunday, June 23, 2013. Alberta's municipal affairs minister says 27 communities are under a state of emergency as some areas begin to recover from flooding while others are still bracing for it.

  • People watch as the river rises rapidly and begins flooding in Medicine Hat, Alta., on Sunday, June 23, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

  • Floodwaters inundate homes in Medicine Hat, Alberta, on Sunday, June 23, 2013. Alberta's municipal affairs minister says 27 communities are under a state of emergency as some areas begin to recover from flooding while others are still bracing for it.

  • Police officers close a bridge as a military helicopter patrols the the area as the river rises rapidly and begins flooding in Medicine Hat, Alberta on Sunday, June 23, 2013.

  • Homeowner Glenn Tibbles looks at the damage done by flood waters to his home near downtown Calgary, Alta., Sunday, June 23, 2013.

  • People help a friend move furniture and personal belongings out of his mud-soaked basement near downtown Calgary, Alta., Sunday, June 23, 2013.

  • Homeowner Glenn Tibbles looks at the damage done by floodwaters to his home near downtown Calgary, Alta., Sunday, June 23, 2013. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

  • Cpl. Brett Martens from CFB Edmonton helps a resident clear out damaged debris from their home near downtown Calgary, Alta., Sunday, June 23, 2013.

  • Residents near downtown Calgary, Alta. load bins with their mud-soaked belongings on Sunday, June 23, 2013.

  • Nathan and Sarah MacBey carry a suitcase of clean dry clothes from their home after the waters receded in Calgary's southend Saturday, June 22, 2013.

  • Nathan and Sarah MacBey tour their flooded home for the first time since the waters receded in Calgary's southend Saturday, June 22, 2013.

  • Furniture is tossed around a flooded home and is seen after the waters receded in Calgary's southend Saturday, June 22, 2013.

  • Sarah MacBey pauses for a moment as she walks through her flooded home for the first time since the waters receded in Calgary's southend Saturday, June 22, 2013.

  • Sarah MacBey picks up a mud covered book that she had made for her husband for fathers day as she tours her flooded home for the first time since the waters receded in Calgary's southend Saturday, June 22, 2013.

  • Sarah MacBey pauses for a moment as she walks through her flooded home for the first time since the waters receded in Calgary's southend Saturday, June 22, 2013.

  • A house is submerged by flood water at a park near the Bow River in Calgary, Alberta, Canada June 22, 2013. Water levels have dropped slightly today.

  • This aerial photo shows the Bow River pouring through the Ghost Lake dam near Cochrane, Alberta, Canada on Saturday, June 22, 2013. The Bow flows trough Calgary and heavy rains plus mountain snow melt have caused evacuations and large scale flooding in the city as well as much of Southern Alberta.