As a forecasted storm bore down on Battle Creek, the staff at Binder Park Zoo was monitoring the situation and preparing to put their well-rehearsed weather safety plan into action.  

Black, ominous clouds rolled in as the wind briskly picked up. Animals were moved into safe quarters and staff filled reserve water tanks – if they lost power the well may not work, and the animals needed water.  

Others added ice to refrigerators in the commissary to help preserve the animals’ meals, including many pounds of meat for the carnivores, fresh fruits and vegetables for the omnivores and herbivores that could amount to an expensive loss if they spoiled. Refrigerated medications were safeguarded at the veterinary hospital in case of a power outage.  

Meanwhile, guests were escorted from the park and encouraged to return another day to enjoy the 433-acre destination. These and many other safety precautions happen swiftly and efficiently. 

August 10-11, 2021was a scene familiar to zoo employees. Months earlier, a violent storm downed trees, cut power and damaged property, closing the zoo for several days. The loss of gate revenue during the open season was particularly hard on the 501(c)(3) nonprofit zoo, especially since they don’t receive tax funding. 

“Everyone is at the mercy of storms like these, but it hits an operation like the zoo particularly hard because it challenges animal care as well as affecting our bottom line,” said Kathryn Sippel, Curator of Collections at Binder Park Zoo. “We are always grateful for any assistance we can get during these times.”  

Zoo staff breathed a sigh of relief when our trucks arrived and unloaded crews shortly after the storm passed at it was safe to begin linework. Within a few hours they had restored power, allowing the zoo to recover quickly and resume normal operations for more than 200 animals, many of which are endangered species. The surrounding communities remained without power, and the magnitude of the outage meant restoration would take several days. Then, the synergy between Consumers Energy and Binder Park Zoo produced an idea that helped turn a negative situation into a positive one. 

Coming Together for the Community 

With lightning speed, the idea became a plan, and we announced we would cover entry costs for the first 2,500 visitors into Binder Park Zoo on Aug. 13 and Aug. 14. We also provided volunteer staff, tents and tables and helped the zoo greet and manage the lines of guests waiting to enter the gate both days. We also gave exiting families flashlights, bubble kits and other fun items to take home, to show our appreciation. 

The event was a gift to the community to show how much they appreciated their patience while crews worked day and night to restore power. 

“It was a creative way to take people’s mind off the inconvenience of not having power by spending a fun summer day making memories at the zoo,” said Leslie Walsh, Director of Marketing and Development at the zoo. “The zoo enjoyed two days of huge attendance, and hundreds of families enjoyed a free day at the zoo, a win-win for both.”  

Since Michigan weather is, at best, unpredictable, it probably won’t be the last time we’re called to provide power restoration services at the zoo. The next storm may be right around the corner, but Consumers Energy and Binder Park Zoo are confident in their preparedness and their shared commitment to “Safety First” for not only the people in our community, but the animals, too. 

“While we never want our communities to face outages, we are always happy when we can do something to help families get out of their homes and enjoy what the community of Battle Creek has to offer,” Walsh said. 

Learn how we prepare for summer storms in Michigan.