No losses of zoo & sanctuary animals reported!
(See also Hurricane Irma: first reports on animals in the Caribbean islands, Hurricane Irma: Hemingway cats & dolphin rescuer Rick Trout rode it out in the Keys , and Hurricane Irma: how wildlife endured)
Current USDA Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service licensing data indicates that at least 217 Floridians hold federal licenses to keep, exhibit, breed, and/or trade in wildlife. Several dozen more wildlife exhibition facilities and sanctuaries are located in adjacent parts of Georgia and South Carolina.
ANIMALS 24-7 has not been able to survey all 217 of the Florida-based wildlife facilities which may have been hit by Hurricane Irma two days ago, on September 10, 2017, but we have managed to survey 27 of the most prominent, including all American Zoo Association-accredited facilities and all of the best-known sanctuaries.
In alphabetical order, this is what we learned about them and the animals in their care:
Big Cat Habitat & Gulf Coast Sanctuary, of Sarasota, posted on September 11, 2017 that “All the animal residents are safe and secure after Hurricane Irma.”
Big Cat Rescue, on the outskirts of Tampa, reported that “The worst of the damage” it experienced “was done to the metal awning over our tour waiting area when a tree became completely uprooted and fell onto the cabana and the corner of the gift shop. We heard it hit at 3 a.m.,” founder Carole Baskin posted, “and Big Cat Rescuers ran out to secure the area and make sure the bobcats who live in that area were safe.
“We didn’t see the next bit of major damage,” Baskin said, “until after checking to be sure all lions, tigers, leopards and cougars were secure. We then walked all of the small cat areas to be sure no trees had snapped off, leaving holes in the caging.
Pharoah may have thought the seas were parting
“A huge branch came down on Pharaoh the white serval’s cage, but the way our cages are built, it just crushed the rounded cage like a Coke can, but did not leave a hole in the cage for escape. Pharaoh has about four cages hooked together, and could have fled the area,” Baskin added, “but instead he was just lying there, looking out from one of his dens at the damage.
“We had been worried about Little Dove, our most elderly cat at the age of 24,” Baskin said, “but by 7 a.m. she had left the tree stump den she used overnight.
“We were blessed during this tragic event,” Baskin added later, “to have the volunteer personnel and supplies necessary to ensure the safety of our 70+ exotic cats. We were even able to help others by taking in their cats. All of the cats are safe, and they didn’t even miss a meal, as we were able to get everyone fed before Irma started really hammering us at about 4 p.m. on Sunday,” September 10, 2017, “and by Monday afternoon we were able to resume fairly normal routines.
“Our cats were pretty shaken up by the howling winds and blowing rain, but they were brave,” Baskin said. “Many of our volunteers are dealing with the devastation of their own homes, and living without power or water, but they are continuing to come in and clean up Big Cat Rescue so that all of our daily routines, including making sure the cats get lots of frozen treats, can resume as soon as possible.”
John and Debra Knight of Big Oak Wolf Sanctuary in Green Cove Springs, Florida, south of Jacksonville, reported that “All the animals weathered the storm and are just fine. As for the sanctuary, we lost a large oak tree and we have about 20,000 pounds of limbs that came down on the structures and ground, but no fence lines were damaged.” John Knight, however, suffered “four broken ribs, fractures of the clavical and glenoid in the right shoulder, and a punctured lung” in an “accident up on a 12-foot ladder trimming limbs in preparation for the hurricane.”
The Brevard Zoo, in Melbourne, on the Florida east coast southeast of Orlando, reported that “Thanks to our dedicated keepers, all of the animals made it through the storm uninjured. We’re working to meet their needs today and clean up tomorrow. We hope to reopen on Wednesday,” September 13, 2017.
In addition to the Brevard Zoo collection, the staff reported “We’re caring for more than 500 sea turtle “washbacks,” or hatchlings, who had only recently waded into the Atlantic Ocean when Hurricane Irma hit, and were pushed or thrown back ashore by tidal surge. Many were found by members of the public and turned over to Florida Wildlife Commission staff to be relayed to the Brevard Zoo for rehabilitation. The zoo is not allowed to accept found wildlife directly from the public.
The Brevard Zoo also handled frequent calls about found baby squirrels, referring the callers to the Florida Wildlife Hospital in Palm Shores, a short distance north. (See update below.)
“Worked like dogs”
Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, like most Florida wildlife attractions, anticipated reopening to visitors on Wednesday, September 13, after two days of debris cleanup. “During initial evaluation, no significant damage has been discovered and all animals are accounted for,” Busch Gardens Tampa Bay said.
The 100-acre Center for Great Apes sanctuary in Wauchula, Florida, almost in mid-state, opened in 1997 after four years in development by founder Patti Ragan. The Center for Great Apes celebrated 20 years in operation by weathering Hurricane Irma, with difficulty but no casualties among the 47 resident nonhuman primates.
“We do not have electricity, but the apes and staff are okay,” Ragan posted. “We have many trees down and we’re under a pile of debris. We’re working hard to clean up. Will post pictures later when we can. We currently have no land line, no computer, no email, and no power. Caregiver staff and maintenance staff were up all night,” as Hurricane Irma hit, “and then worked like dogs in the heat trying to clean paths,” to enable animal care chores.
“Working on clean-up”
The Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Gardens, in Sanford, just north of Orlando, reported “All our animals are safe and sound,” despite “power outage, debris, and some flooding.” Added the zoo staff on September 12, 2017, “Our power and water are back up and running. There is just a lot of debris to clear and several downed trees.”
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium, on the Gulf Coast of Florida, due west of Tampa, was “happy to share that our animals and staff caring for them during the storm are all safe. Our team is currently working on cleanup.”
Dade City’s Wild Things reported that “All the animals are fine. However, there is tremendous damage to many outdoor enclosures.”
Out in the Keys
Dolphin Connection, of Duck Key, Florida, was just beginning to do damage assessment as of September 12, 2017. The five resident dolphins had been temporarily relocated to SeaWorld Orlando ahead of Hurricane Irma.
The Dolphin Research Center, whose location on Grassy Key was among the first in Florida to feel the effects of Hurricane Irma, evacuated most of the staff to the mainland, then endured 24 hours of anxiety before posting at dawn on September 11, 2017, “Great news! We just heard from the stay-behind crew. All of the dolphins, sea lions, and people are fine! The physical damage assessment is underway, and now the recovery begins.”
Buy some snakes?!
The Florida Reptile Ranch, in Tampa, chiefly a breeding facility, posted on September 11, 2017,l “Hurricane is over! Are you guys ready to buy some snakes?
“Please give Mom a chance!”
The Florida Wildlife Hospital & Sanctuary, in Palm Shores, east of Orlando, weathered Hurricane Irma without significant difficulties other than those experienced by most wildlife care institutions, but was stretched afterward to field countless calls about found animals, especially young squirrels.
“A lot of trees and branches have come down due to hurricane Irma and as a result a lot of babies as well,” the Florida Wildlife Hospital & Sanctuary posted. “If you happen to come across baby squirrels during clean-up, please give Mom a chance to build a new nest or move her kids to another one. Unless injured, it is best for a baby to stay with Mom.
“If at all possible, babies need to be left alone for four to six hours,” the Florida Wildlife Hospital & Sanctuary advised. “If they are cold or wet you can move them into a shoebox with a warmed rice sock and a hand towel and then place the makeshift nest as close to where you found them as possible. If after the allotted time, Mom doesn’t return, the hospital will gladly take them in. But please give Mom a chance!”
“What a horrible day!”
“Oh what a horrible day!” posted International Primate Protection League founder Shirley McGreal late on September 10, 2017 from the 40-acre IPPL gibbon sanctuary in Summerville, South Carolina.
“Last night I went to bed encouraged by the Weather Channel assuring me that Irma was going to Alabama. When I got up, I looked outside and saw that she was with us!
“It has been so quiet all day,” McGreal added. “We had the noise of the wind and rain. But all the 35 gibbons were inside, and we missed their wonderful songs. Our three little Asian otters were netted and crated thanks to the efforts of staffers Carl, Stacy, Alison, and Jacob. The otters are now all residing in the animal care cottage.
“The grounds are littered with fallen branches. It is nearly as bad as Hurricane Matthew,” McGreal finished, but still not nearly as bad as Hurricane Hugo. Hugo all but flattened the IPPL facilities in September 1989, but all of the resident gibbons and otters survived.
New IPPL executive director
McGreal, who remains IPPL president, had just introduced Casey Taylor, her successor as executive director, earlier on September 10, 2017.
“Taylor joins the organization having served at sanctuaries in Florida and Georgia where she helped care for orangutans and chimps. She also did development fundraising at the Florida Aquarium in Tampa. She pursued a law degree in Orlando to do environmental law,” before becoming involved with IPPL,” summarized Rickey Ciapha Dennis Jr. of the Berkeley Independent, serving Berkeley and Charleston counties in South Carolina.
“Enjoying the beautiful breeze”
“Here at Jungle Island,” the facility founded in 1936 as Parrot Jungle reported, “we’re happy to report that what’s most important to us, our staff and animals, are ALL safe and accounted for.”
Lion Country Safari, offering a four-mile drive through semi-natural facilities for African wildlife in Loxahatchie, Florida, just north of West Palm Beach, reported only that “The largest herd of zebras in North America looked beautiful just a day after Hurricane Irma,” and thanked “all of our staff for coming out to care for the animals and to clean up the park.” A scheduled September 13, 2017 reopening was pushed back a day when the debris clean-up took more time than had been anticipated.
The Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa reported soon after Hurricane Irma passed that “All animals are fine and happy to be enjoying the beautiful breeze outside. We sustained some minor damage, but still have lots to clean up.”
The Miami Seaquarium, home of Lolita, the oldest orca whale in captivity, ever since she was netted in Penn Cove, Whidbey Island, Washington, in 1970, offered only that, “The sun is out and we are getting things back to normal. Even Lolita’s bird friends have come back!
“Our animals and team members are safe,” the Seaquarium added. “We will continue to assess the park and provide updates as they become available.”
Though Lolita survived in her tank without injury, Miami Seaquarium critics––including former SeaWorld trainer Jeff Ventre and Lincoln O’Barry, son of Dolphin Project founder Ric O’Barry––argued that she should have been evacuated to the much larger tanks at SeaWorld Orlando. Beyond the stress of the relocation on Lolita herself, however, the journey through 90-degree heat would have taken about five hours each way under normal traffic conditions, and in the conditions prevailing during the Miami-area human evacuation might have taken 10 hours each way.
“The more we walk around, the more fallen trees we come across”
Monkey Jungle, in southern Miami-Dade County, like most Florida wildlife care facilities, had “staffers who hunkered down and rode out the storm with the animals,” including a gorilla, an orangutan, five capuchins and about 300 other monkeys, among them Java macaques snd squirrel monkeys. The animals occupy 15 wooded acres.
“Our staffers are now out surveying the damage and tending to the animals,” Monkey Jungle posted on September 11, 2017. “Fallen trees have crushed a number of fences; these need to be replaced to keep our animals safe. Additionally, some of our roofs have been lifted off of their structures and blown into the animals’ habitat. We have no electricity for our pump that delivers water to all of our animals in their enclosures.”
A day later, Monkey Jungle added, “We are sad to report that the more we walk around, the more fallen trees we come across. Removing the trees and repairing the damage is turning out to be a pretty big job.”
Monkey Jungle no stranger to storms
Amid a temporary local shortage of personnel with tools and building trade skills, Monkey Jungle appealed to Facebook page visitors for “help finding contractors who are available to come down to the Monkey Jungle to help us start rebuilding.”
Founded in 1932 by Charles and Grace Staton DuMond, opened to the public a year later, Monkey Jungle has endured many a storm since. Headed since 1987 by the founders’ granddaughter Sharon DuMond, Monkey Jungle became an animal rights cause celebré in the 1980s over the living conditions of a male gorilla named King. Acquired in 1979 from a circus, King lived alone for 20 years in a barred cement cell about the size of a small mobile home before his present quarters were built in 2001.
The Gorilla King watched The Lion King
In between, Monkey Jungle was virtually destroyed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Yet, while the entire bird population of Miami MetroZoo was lost, and “Floridians still tell tales of the llamas, vipers, cougars, gazelles and other exotic animals who sprung loose,” recalled Alan Gomez of USA Today, “DuMond said that they didn’t lose a single monkey. Some took cover in the various sinkholes around the property. Some sought shelter under fallen tree limbs, and a group of them hung out under a wooden roof that collapsed on a row of chairs.”
King the gorilla and Mei, the orangutan, spent Hurricane Irma confined to “heavily fortified cages,” Gomez reported. As Irma approached, Gomez wrote, “Mei paced around her cage, clearly unhappy with having to stay inside. King was more relaxed, sitting back and watching Snow White on a flatscreen TV. Park staff set up a button for him to press to swap between DVDs. His favorites are Moana, Tarzan and The Lion King.”
“All animals safe & fine”
The Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium in Sarasota reported that “All animals are safe,” after staff waited out Hurricane Irma on the premises.
The Palm Beach Zoo, formerly and perhaps still better known as the Dreher Park Zoo, posted to Facebook on September 11, 2017 that “All staff and animals at the zoo are fine. Power and internet are out.” There appeared to be no September 12 update.
Ringling is silent
The Ringling Center for Elephant Conservation released no information about how the resident elephants weathered Hurricane Irma, consistent with having kept a low profile ever since the 200-acre facility opened near Ellenton, Florida in 1995.
The 146-year-old Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus retired the last of its touring elephants to the Center for Elephant Conservation in May 2016. The circus itself ceased operations a year later. The 39 elephants at the center as of May 2016 were expected to live quietly in retirement, except for blood draws taken periodically in connection with cancer research.
Will Ringling elephant center close or move?
However, two elephants each have since been transferred to the San Antonio and Columbus zoos, while two others have died. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a longtime Ringling nemesis, has repeatedly alleged since January 2017 that Ringling intends to close and/or relocate the Center for Elephant Conservation. The real estate it occupies might sell for substantially more than the cost of obtaining comparable premises in another state, though a short-term effect of Hurricane Irma may be to temporarily depress land values.
Lost one tiger, others found in barn
Feld Entertainment, the company that owned the Ringling circus and owns the Center for Elephant Conservation, on September 6, 2017 alerted the Georgia Department of Natural Resources that a tiger had somehow vanished from the back of a truck en route from Florida to Tennessee while the truck was parked for the night near Stockbridge, Georgia, just south of Atlanta. The tiger, whose loss was not discovered until the truck reached the unnamed destination, was shot by police after conflicting with a dog near I-75.
The tiger turned out to be part of a load or loads also including seven tigers, six lions, and a leopard who were found in a facility variously described by local media as a barn and a workshop near Weiner, Arkansas on September 11, 2017. Brought to the U.S. from Germany in 2012 by trainer Alexander Lacey, the animals were awaiting return to Germany via Memphis International Airport, having been trucked north because Hurricane Irma had closed the Florida airports that could have accommodated them.
Chimps were “champs”
Save the Chimps, Inc., housing more than 250 chimpanzees at Fort Pierce, most of them part of the former U.S. Air Force research colony, reported that “Everyone is fine; staff are reporting back to work as they can and as assigned. The chimps are doing well and weathered the storm like champs! Unfortunately,” Save the Chimps said, Irma did “a lot of damage to the climbing structures and other outside parts of the sanctuary,” which keeps the resident chimpanzees outdoors as much as possible. Of necessity, the chimps were kept indoors while Hurricane Irma blew through.
SeaWorld Orlando reported on September 11, 2017 that “All SeaWorld Orlando facilities have electricity and team members and animals are safe. The team has been assessing the park following Hurricane Irma,” the posting said, “and thankfully, no significant damage has been discovered as of the initial checks.
SeaWorld housing Dolphin Connection animals
In anticipation of Hurricane Irma’s landfall in Florida,” Sea World Orlando said, “five Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphins were transported from Dolphin Connection, a marine mammal organization owned by Hawks Cay Resort in Duck Key, to SeaWorld Orlando. Four team members from Dolphin Connection traveled with the dolphins and are caring for them at SeaWorld’s behind the scenes area. The five male dolphins range in age from 13 to 43 years old and are expected to stay at SeaWorld Orlando until they can be safely returned to their home in the Florida Keys. Staff members from Dolphin Connection are staying in the Orlando area to monitor the animals during the storm.”
Walt Disney Inc. facilities
Walt Disney’s Wild Animal Kingdom and the nearby Epcot Center, also operated by Walt Disney Inc., “did not choose to evacuate their animals,” reported Danny Cox of The Inquisitor shortly before Hurricane Irma hit, “but all of the pens and barns for the animals are reinforced to withstand big-time storms.
“When bad weather comes in, Disney will attempt to get the animals into their pens, but they will not force them inside if they don’t want to go,” recognizing that for especially flighty species the attempt to capture or confine them might be more dangerous than the storm itself.
“For those that remain outside,” Cox said, “Disney has experts on hand for each and every species of animal. Those experts will monitor the behavior of the animals and keep checking on them as the storm continues. Some water-dwelling creatures such as alligators and crocodiles will be left in their man-made habitats since it is where they would be safest anyway.”
No post-Irma particulars were available through September 12, 2017.
Nothing heard from White Oak in a week
The White Oak Conservation Center, in Yule, Florida, on September 5, 2017 posted to Facebook that “We are finishing up our preparations so that our team members can take care of their own homes and families before the storm. We will post updates as we can, but understand that our priorities over the next few days will be our animals and our White Oak family.” As of September 12, 2017, no further information was available.
A 13,000-acre breeding compound for endangered species, working under contract with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and American Zoo Association-accredited zoos, the White Oak Conservation Center hosts rhinos, cheetahs, okapis, bongo and roan antelopes, Florida panthers, and Mississippi sandhill cranes, among a variety of other animals.
“Closed until further notice”
Zoo Miami, formerly and perhaps better known as the Miami MetroPark Zoo, posted on September 11, 2017 that, “The overwhelming majority of our animals are doing well, though we haven’t completed an in-depth count of everything yet. The staff are safe, despite the loss of power, phones and Internet. There has been tremendous tree damage through the zoo. Lots of fences and shelters are damaged. Buildings are for the most part in good shape. No animal escaped. The vegetation damage is extensive, especially to the trees and it will take weeks just for the cleanup. Zoo Miami will be closed until further notice.”
Some of the estimated 3,000 Zoo Miami animals survived Hurricane Andrew in 1992, zoo director Ron Magill said, including a rhino named Toshi. While Hurricane Irma did extensive damage, Hurricane Andrew did much more, making the then-Miami MetroPark Zoo the leading case-in-point as the American Zoo Association moved afterward to develop collaborative disaster survival and recovery plans, which have subsequently saved thousands of animals’ lives after disasters worldwide.