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Tragic Ending for Great Seal Escape

August 20, 2002

DW-WORLD has learned that "Gaston," the escaped Prague Zoo seal who warmed the hearts of Germans and Czechs after swimming hundreds of kilometers down the flooded Elbe River, died on Tuesday, a day after his capture.

Gaston who was finally captured in Germany, did not make it homeImage: AP

A seal which rode the surging waters of the river Elbe for the days, swimming his way to freedom after the flooding of the Prague Zoo, died on Tuesday after being recaptured more than 200 kilometers away in Germany.

The bravest and the quickest

Gaston grabbed headlines with his bid for freedom, and became a symbol of how the devastating flooding has brought central European neighbors together in tragedy.

Gaston broke out of the zoo last Friday, along with three other seals. Of the four, Gaston was the bravest, and the quickest – two others were caught by Sunday, and one seal returned almost immediately after tasting freedom.

Over the weekend, television pictures showed an obviously excited Gaston running rings around boats carrying Czech seal specialists as they fed him with salted fish, and attempted to capture him with large nets.

Finally caught

On Monday, Prague Zoo spokesman Vip Kahle told DW-WORLD the seal had been caught by German vets in the town of Wittenberg, some 200 kilometers north of Prague. Animal scientists warned that if the fugitive Gaston, who was a South African seal and used to far warmer waters, had made it to the cold North Sea, he would not have survived.

The relief was great as news of the animal’s recapture spread. “We are extremely relieved that he has been caught”, Vip Kahle of Prague’s Zoo said on Monday, adding that the zoo was looking forward to his homecoming on Tuesday morning.

But Gaston did not make the reunification with his mate, Julie, and two-month-old son Melon. He died on his way to Prague.

Prague Zoo hard hit

According to zoo director Peter Fejk, Gaston could have died due to shock, exhaustion or internal injuries.

The Prague Zoo has already lost numerous specimens of its valuable animal stock in the floods.

Both an elephant and a hippopotamus had to be put down after zookeepers concluded they could not be rescued, and a gorilla is feared to have drowned.

The recapture of Gaston had served as a consolation for the people of Prag. But now even this exciting adventure has found a tragic end in Europe’s disastrous floods.