With Irma hammering the Caribbean and Florida, it is an important time to consider the question: What happens at the zoos and aquariums during a hurricane? The simple answer is: a lot of dedicated individuals work very hard to ensure the safety of the animals that they care for. This begins with implementing a hurricane plan ahead of any hurricane or tropical storm’s arrival. This preparation happens very quickly over a 24 – 72 hour time period.
The daunting task of storm prep begins with stockpiling food, water, and other supplies to sustain both the animals and the stay-behind-crews, or ride out crews, through the duration and aftermath of the storm. Generators will be tested and the facility will be secured ahead of the hurricane.
Animals are not normally evacuated from a zoo to another location because it can be more stressful on the animal than the riding out the storm. There is always the risk of evacuating to a more dangerous location, as these storms can change course expectantly. Animals will be moved to safe locations, many of which are their night houses. Night houses are constructed with welded metal and poured concrete. This is especially true for category 1 animals, or animals that are considered to be dangerous. In extreme circumstances, some of the public infrastructure, like bathrooms, can be used like the infamous picture of a flock of Flamingos in a Zoo Miami restroom during hurricane Andrew in 1992. Many animals will also be crated and then can be placed in other non-animal facilities within a concreate building such as conference rooms and common areas that do not have windows. Animals such as snakes, especially venomous snakes, will likely be placed in locked boxes to both protect them and those around them.
Protecting animals that would normally deal with tropical weather in the wild is a little bit easier. Animals such as whales and dolphins will simply move to the bottom of their tanks during bad weather. This also goes for crocs and alligators who are used to the weather and will also sink to the bottom when things get really bad. It is impossible to move every animal in a zoological facility, but crews ensure their safety as long as the conditions allow them to do so.
Just like every Floridian, zoological facilities do as much preparation as possible to ensure the safety of their animals. Any animal that can be moved inside, will be moved. Anything that can be a potential danger is removed. Animals that can safely shelter in place will, especially if they are already well protected from a storm. We need to remember that some of these animals are safe where they are and will be less stressed than they would be if they were moved.
Please stand with us as we stand up for zoos. Keep the facilities and their ride-out and stay-behind crews in your thoughts and prayers. And most importantly don’t forget to think the trainers, animal care staff, and veterinarians for all they do and their commitment to these animals no matter what the storm.