In Hurricane Irma-Hit Florida, A Special Evacuation For Its Zoo Animals

At Miami Zoo, animals were moved to concrete bunkers before Hurricane Irma arrived in the state

In Hurricane Irma-Hit Florida, A Special Evacuation For Its Zoo Animals

A Miami Zoo keeper walks a cheetah to a shelter ahead of the landfall of Hurricane Irma

About 6.5 million were ordered to evacuate their homes in South Florida as Hurricane Irma made landfall as a Category 4 storm in the southwestern state on Sunday. The storm has weakened to a Category 1 storm with wind speeds of about 85 miles per hour. Atlantic's most powerful storm killed two dozen people in the Caribbean and Cuba as gigantic waves leveled homes, destroyed property and trees.

As millions fled their homes to move to shelters away from the coast, evacuation was a challenge for the state's animals too.

At Miami Zoo, zookeepers scrambled to secure animals and finish testing emergency equipment as weather conditions deteriorated ahead of Irma.

With the hurricane a day away, staff at the zoo moved the animals to concrete bunkers on Saturday. This included a critically endangered white-rumped vulture named Peanut and the more common pink flamingos.
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Endangered white-rumped vulture named Peanut being escorted into a crate inside a concrete bunker

"We are very concerned about the generators working because we have life system supports for pumping for the aquarium and things like that," said Zoo Miami Communications Director Ron Magill. "If they shut down, the oxygen doesn't get in the water, and animals will die."

Large animals such as lions, elephants and apes have not been evacuated, since their enclosures were fortified after Hurricane Andrew in 1992. But the zoo has relocated smaller, more fragile animals, such as the pink flamingos, to concrete bunkers.

Moving wild animals, however, poses its own dangers.

"These animals go through a tremendous amount of stress when you move them away from a familiar area, and that stress could be very, very dangerous to them," Magill said.

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Flamingos take refuge in a permanent shelter ahead of Hurricane Irma at Miami Zoo

But the risk of moving some animals is necessary to avoid a repeat of Andrew, when the flamingos were found huddled in a bathroom, he added.

"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."

Orlando, Florida's Gatorland which boasts of 2000 alligators at their wildlife property assured people and officials that their gators won't be seen floating down the streets after the hurricane. The reserve installed 8-foot-fences around each exhibit. So, the gators stayed put.

At Florida's Museum of Natural History, employees captured the 1000-odd butterflies in their Butterfly rainforest. The delicate creatures were caught in nets and taken indoors.

And then, this...
Unfortunately, there were reports of people leaving their pet dogs chained to trees while evacuating their homes. Local officials said they will file animal cruelty charges against the owner, reported

(With inputs from Reuters)


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