How Zoo Animals in Florida Survived Hurricane Irma

While pets could flee with their owners as Hurricane Irma bore down on the state of Florida, what about the captive animals in zoos that had nowhere to go?

The good news is that, according to most reports, zoo animals were able to make it through the intense wind, rain and storm surge. To keep their accreditation, members of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums must have a disaster plan and practice an annual preparedness drill.

The enclosures in many of Florida’s zoos have protected areas where large animals like tigers and giraffes can be safely sheltered without having to be evacuated. Smaller animals, however, had to be moved to safer areas. This must have been especially scary for the animals that were already stressed out because they could†sense the approaching monster storm.

The staff at the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society in West Palm Beach, which has 150 animals, began moving birds and small mammals a few days before the storm.

“We are prepared for the worst and hopeful for the best,” Naki Carter, the zoo’s communications director, told NBC News Sept. 9. “We are preparing for a Category 5 to make direct impact with our zoo.”

The zoo’s animal care center also serves as a large hurricane shelter and command center from which the six members of the zoo’s storm team monitored Irma. The zoo had 10 days’ worth of food for small animals, a month’s supply for the large ones, and was expecting more food to be delivered after the storm passed.

Although the zoo suffered physical damage, none of the animals or staff were harmed, according to its Facebook page.

The Zoo Miami didn’t evacuate any of its 3,000 animals “since hurricanes can change direction at the last minute and you run the risk of evacuating to a more dangerous location,” it said in a statement on its Facebook page. “Furthermore, the stress of moving the animals can be more dangerous than riding out the storm.”

The zoo’s great apes and carnivores rode out the storm in their sturdy night bunkers, which are constructed of poured concrete and welded metal. Smaller animals were moved to other zoo buildings.

Most of Zoo Miami’s animals survived the devastating Hurricane Andrew in 1992, which wreaked havoc on the zoo Ė and most of them survived Irma as well (a rhinoceros named Toshi survived both storms).

“A handful of birds including a flamingo and a Great Indian Hornbill didnít make it,” the Miami Herald reports. Zoo spokesman Ron Magill said they probably died of stress rather than injuries from the hurricane, but necropsies will determine their cause of death.

At Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, a flock of flamingos was herded, single file, into a bunker. A video of this unusual yet very orderly evacuation has been viewed more than 2.8 million times.

All of Busch Gardens’ 12,000 animals were accounted for after Irma passed, according to a Sept. 11 update on its Facebook page.

Although zoos are not the best place for animals at any time, the employees who helped make sure many of the captive animals in Florida survived a really horrific storm should be commended.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons


Sue H
Sue Habout a month ago

Thanks for sharing.

Marie W
Marie W11 months ago

Thank you for posting.

natasha p
.about a year ago


joan silaco
joan silacoabout a year ago


bob P
bob Pabout a year ago

Having a plan is the way to look ahead and be ready, they did it, thanks.

Leo C
Leo Cabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing!

Marija M
Marija Mabout a year ago

Great, tks for posting.

Michele B
Michele Babout a year ago

great, great story. The animals too need our help and support during times like we are now experiencing

Lisa Sears
Lisa Searsabout a year ago

Great story, thanks for letting us know!

Janis K
Janis Kabout a year ago

Thanks for sharing.