Moapa zoo drying out from Monday’s deluge

They had the animals. All they needed was the ark.

Valerie Holt said it took about an hour Monday for the grounds of her Roos-N-More Zoo in Moapa to fill with knee-deep water in the midst of the worst rain storm she has ever seen in Nevada.

“It had a current with it too. It was amazing to see that much water moving,” the veterinarian turned zoo owner said. “It’s weird. This is the first time the water has taken the path it chose to take.”

When it was over, the flood did more than ruffle feathers at Roos-N-More, but the facility and its more than 400 animals made it through with two casualties: a pair of elderly parakeets trapped and drowned at the bottom of their cage.

By some estimates, the Moapa Valley received a year’s worth of rain in a few hours. Holt said she hadn’t seen a downpour like that since she lived in Louisiana, and the results were familiar.

“The Muddy River — it looked like the Mississippi River,” she said.

Holt said it would have been much worse without the hard work of her teenage daughter, three employees and two dedicated volunteers. The seven women rushed around digging trenches to divert the water, moving some animals to higher ground and bringing others inside buildings on the property 55 miles northeast of Las Vegas.

Holt said at least 50 animals spent Monday night in what was once the family’s home at the zoo, including armadillos, birds and a pair of giant tortoises, one weighing in at about 130 pounds. There was a temporary pen filled with turtles in the living room.

“There were animals in the bathtub,” she said.

The zoo has two kangaroos and one wallaby with joeys in their pouches. All came through the storm unscathed.

There were no escapes, though the zoo’s only real predators easily could have. Holt said they had their servals and caracals, two types of African cats, in a set of cages built above a former porcupine enclosure. The flood cut through that area, scouring out some of the tunnels the porcupines had dug and causing the ground to collapse under the cat cages.

“We’re not talking about a little hole,” she said. “They all could have escaped if they wanted to, but they all just sat there.”

Even before the flood, Roos-N-More was only open to private tours as Holt and her veterinarian husband, Jay, make improvements and apply for permits that will allow them to open again for public zoo days a few times a month.

Holt said the deluge interrupted some of that work. Plans to pave the entry road and parking lot on Tuesday were scrapped.

Mostly, though, Holt was grateful it wasn’t worse. Thanks to the quick work of local utility crews, the zoo’s power and water services were restored by 11:30 p.m. Monday, which kept meat and vegetables from spoiling in freezers.

And everyone is safe. Holt said her husband was stuck in Las Vegas on Monday night but made it home Tuesday to help with cleanup and repairs.

Their daughter made it home safely from high school in Overton Monday afternoon, just before the worst of the flooding hit. Now she’s effectively cut off from school until Interstate 15 is repaired and traffic is allowed to cross from Moapa to Overton.

With the detours now in place, what was a 16-mile drive to school now covers more than 100 miles each way on roads crowded with frustrated I-15 motorists. For the time being, Holt said, she is keeping her daughter at home — where there is plenty of work to do.

Contact Henry Brean at or 702-383-0350. Follow @RefriedBrean on Twitter.

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