Animal caretakers prepping for Irma with lessons learned from Andrew

Zoo Miami’s flamingos won’t be riding out Hurricane Irma in a bathroom like they were 25 years ago when Hurricane Andrew devastated the park.

Instead, the park’s majestic birds will be inside their steel and concrete enclosure—an upgrade from the iconic photo that shows the birds huddled in a hay-filled bathroom.

“It’s one of the things we learned from Andrew,” said Ron Magill a spokesman for Zoo Miami. “They will be safe.”


Flamingos huddled in the bathroom of Miami Metrozoo during Hurricane Andrew 25 years ago. Ron Magill along with the staff (of then Miami Metrozoo) rounded up the flamingos and put them in the bathroom for safety against Andrew.

Ron Magill

Magill said workers began Tuesday getting the park — which houses almost 3,000 animals — ready for the potential of a direct hit from Irma.

“It is better to work our butts off now and not have it come, than to have it come and have to deal with something you will never forget,” Magill said.

While South Floridians cleared stores of water, filled up their gas tanks, and shuttered their windows, zoos, museums, and rescue centers with animals began the rush to insure the critters were storm ready.

At Jungle Island, Zoo Miami, the Monkey Jungle, and the Everglades Outpost, workers were ready to place some of the animals in their night enclosures or in-house facilities to keep them safe. Jungle Island will close for the weekend Wednesday evening, and the Miami Seaquarium is closing starting Thursday ahead of the storm.

“We are preparing for the worst, and hoping for the best,” said Martha Frassica-Rivera, the general manager and head animal curator at the Everglades Outpost, a wildlife rescue center in Homestead. “Our first concern is the safety of our animals.”

South Florida’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals will begin the laborious process of shuttling 48 horses to three different locations on Thursday. In the meantime, the staff is stocking up on medical supplies, feed, and other horse care items to sustain the horses through the hurricane.

Birds and reptiles at the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science will be relocated in-house to indoor facilities, according to the museum’s spokeswoman Rebecca Dorfman. The fish are safest in their respective habitats — but six staffers will stay overnight this weekend to care for the animals and monitor the water levels in the open-tank at the museum.

The building—which opened to the public earlier this year after its former location in Coconut Grove closed in 2015 — was designed with storm surges in mind. The plaza level sits 21 feet and eight inches above sea level, which is 50 percent over the county’s requirement, according to Dorfman. The museum is closing starting Thursday.

pelican harbor seabird station sept 5 2017 (2)

Pelicans that were rescued and rehabilitated at the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station were released on Tuesday ahead of Hurricane Irma.

Courtesy of Christopher Boykin

Rescue centers in South Florida aimed to release as many healthy animals as possible before the storm, and many animals are planned to be sent home with staff members.

“Animals are smarter than we think and are keen at hunkering down during weather events,” said Christopher Boykin, executive director of the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station.

The station released 10 animals on Tuesday, including three pelicans. The staff considered holding the animals until after the storm, but after consulting veterinarians, they decided the animals were safer in the wild.

Boykin said bird rescues were underway as recently as Tuesday, but the station, on Northeast 79th Street, is closed starting Thursday.

“It’s our responsibility to the animals and to the public,” he said. The remaining mix of over 40 animals — pelicans, owls, herons, cranes, other birds, squirrels, and opossums — will either be relocated to staff members’ homes or next door at the Pelican Harbor Marina, which is built for a Category 5 hurricane, according to Boykin. The animals moving next door will be transferred at the end of the day on Friday.

“It’s our best alternative right now,” said Boykin. “It’s close and it’s safe.”

pelican harbor seabird station sept 6 2017

Doug Giraldo, rescue and release coordinator at the Pelican Harbor Seabird Station, prepared cages to house pelicans in the Pelican Harbor Marina ahead of Hurricane Irma on Wednesday.

Courtesy of Christopher Boykin

The South Florida Wildlife Center in Fort Lauderdale also released healthy animals ahead of the hurricane.

“Animals know how to protect themselves,” said Deborah Robbins Millman, the center’s director.

Over 300 remaining animals, including squirrels, opossums, turtles and birds, will be sent home with center staff and volunteers.

“We take all storms seriously, but this one seems different,” she said.

When it comes to animals, storm preparation isn’t much different than preparing for humans — they need food, water and shelter.

But dealing with lions, tigers, bears, whales, turtles and even venomous snakes, complicates the hurricane preparation plans.

Magill at Zoo Miami said they’ve realized “evacuating animals is more stressful for them than staying put in their enclosures.” So the zoo spends the days leading up to the storm removing tarps, tying up the Safari Cycles and airboats and making sure there is enough fuel for all of the vehicles.

The zoo will be closed Thursday and Friday, but Magill said they will wait as long as they can to get the animals secured in their enclosures. Small animals including the Coatimundi, a South American raccoon, and the African Serville will be put in kennels and secured inside a building.

The nearly 300 primates at the Monkey Jungle — a park on Southwest 216th Street devastated by Hurricane Andrew — will go into their enclosures Friday. Steve Jacques, the park’s director, said there will be perhaps three staffers riding the storm out at the park.

“We cannot afford to be away from the park and not be able to get there if the roads are blocked,” he said.