CBS Local — When you work with ferocious jungle cats, massive sea creatures, and countless insects, it’s easy to see how mapping out a hurricane disaster plan for all of them will become a problem.
The one-two punch of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma on the southern states is not the first major weather event to force animal care facilities to get creative with their storm prep. In 1992, Hurricane Andrew devastated much of the Miami area.
The storm forced employees to pack animals into some very odd spaces, like the zoo’s flamingos being kept safe in the facility’s public bathroom.
Other animal attractions have not been so lucky during recent storms. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, it knocked out the emergency generator at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas. The damage killed most of the aquarium’s fish collection.
“While we did have some fish make it, the animals that made it were almost all our air-breathers,” said Audubon Nature Institute’s Rich Toth, per NPR.
According to NPR, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which represents more than 230 animal care facilities in the U.S. and abroad, requires all of its members to practice an annual disaster preparedness drill to keep their accreditation.
While every zoo and aquarium must have a plan to save their animals, those plans usually don’t involve moving the animals to a different location.
“That’s probably the No. 1 question I get asked: ‘Oh my God, when are you going to evacuate animals?’ We are never going to evacuate animals,” said Miami Zoo’s Ron Magill. In the interview with NPR, Magill noted that the stress of evacuation alone can be enough to kill an animal. He added that indoor enclosures are built to withstand the strengths of major hurricanes.
Although most attractions are built with indoor shelters for animals, outside help can still make a big difference. The San Antonio Zoo stepped up to deliver supplies to zoos and aquariums in Houston and Victoria during Hurricane Harvey. The vital equipment was airlifted in until trucks were able to enter the flood-ravaged region.
According to NPR, zoos in the path of Irma are stockpiling food and cleaning supplies as they ride out the storm. Employees are reportedly bringing in back-up generators, extra gas tanks, and removing anything that may fall and damage the cages. Staff members are also planning to sleep at their facilities so they won’t be cut off from their animals.
During Hurricane Harvey, 15 members of the Houston Zoo’s team were at the zoo the first night the massive storm hit.
According to NPR’s interview with the zoo’s CEO, Lee Ehmke, the members slept at the zoo “on cots or on the floor.”
Ehmke added that many of the employees protected the animals while suffering great personal losses of property at their respective homes, but that the zoo is prepared to help the employees where possible.
Currently, Miami is projected to be directly in the path of Irma, which could reach the city as a Category 4 storm, making it more powerful than both Hurricane Harvey, and the aforementioned Hurricane Andrew that wreaked havoc on Florida 25 years ago.