Zoo Miami isn’t evacuating its animals. Instead, it has safely secured them, hunkering down to weather Hurricane Irma.
Many of them have been temporarily relocated to a reinforced building on the zoo site, where they will stay until the hurricane – which made landfall Sunday and is currently battering the state’s south – has passed.
The zoo made special disaster arrangements after Hurricane Andrew hit in August 1992. It devastated the zoo, killing and injuring many of the animals, and destroying many of the habitats.
At that time, the flamingos were sequestered in a men’s bathroom. This time around, the birds and other fragile animals have been relocated to reinforced concrete bunkers.
“I believe we’ve done everything we can,” zoo spokesperson Ron Magill said. “The staff has been amazing at protecting these animals, providing food, putting them in shelters.”
Most of the animals will stay in their normal night-time enclosures, which were fortified after Andrew and, Magill said, have proven safe for them in previous hurricanes.
“Those night houses are made of poured concrete, welded metal, to withstand the strength of the animal itself,” Magill said. “And fortunately, it’s also strong enough to withstand the strength of a major hurricane.”
For animals that had to be moved, this was only done as late as possible, to avoid stressing them out. The longer they’re away from their regular enclosures, the more stressed they become. This stress can be dangerous, so keeping them in familiar surroundings is ideal.
The zoo also needed to remove anything that could become a projectile, such as garbage bins and signs, take down tarpaulins and shadecloths, stockpile food, and make sure the backup generators are functional and safe.
This last bit is very important – many animals were lost at Audubon Aquarium in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina knocked out one of its backup generators in 2005.
Zoo Miami is currently closed to the public, and has not yet scheduled a reopening time, which will depend on the amount of cleanup required. In the wake of Andrew, the zoo was closed for over 16 weeks, and zoo staff is fervently hoping Irma will be not be as severe.
“Please, God, don’t let this be another Andrew,” Magill said. “For us, that was the storm of a lifetime, not twice in my lifetime, please.”