Over the past week, Irma has redefined our expectations of how powerful a hurricane can be and left devastation in its wake: The once-Category 5 cyclone roared through the Caribbean, leaving one million people in Puerto Rico without power, and caused significant flooding in Miami, Naples and many other parts of Florida. It was difficult enough for seasoned hurricane veterans to hunker down for the storm, and adding the thousands of animals from Florida's zoos and theme parks into the equation made preparations even more difficult. But damn did Floridians pull it off.
The tourism industry has a whopping $US67 billion ($83 billion) impact on the Sunshine State's economy. Much of the cash from tourism comes from Disneyworld, Busch Gardens, SeaWorld and myriad other theme parks, almost all of which feature some sort of animal attraction. Thankfully, many of Florida's zoos and parks had plans in place to keep their animals safe, and some were pretty creative. This wasn't their first brush with a hurricane, after all.
Gatorland, a popular attraction home to 2000 of Florida's most infamous reptiles, really wanted to ensure the public that its residents had no plans to escape during the storm.
"This isn't our first rodeo," Gatorland park director Mike Hileman told The Huffington Post over the weekend. "We have a detailed hurricane procedure in place. We have double fences, a large perimeter fence that goes around the entire property."
The video below shows park employees moving their adorable critters to safety before the storm:
Down in Key West, the Monroe County Sheriff's Department had an interesting solution to relocate the critters in the animal farm it operates, including sloths and emus. According to KHQ News, the sheriff's department relocated the 250 animals in its care to local gaol cells.
The Monroe County Sheriff's Department could not be reached for comment at this time, but perhaps this headline best encapsulates the situation:
In cases where animals didn't have a team of dedicated employees to help them, locals stepped up to assist. After Irma literally sucked the water out of the Sarasota Bay, a group of rescue workers and residents in the aptly-named Manatee County helped two stranded sea doggos (read: Manatees). According to ABC, the team moved the creatures about 90m closer to water, as they seemed to be suffering.
"One wasn't moving, the other was breathing and had water in its eyes," Michael Sechler, who helped move the manatees, wrote in a Facebook post. "My friends and I couldn't move these massive animals ourselves, and we called every service we could think of, but no one answered. We gave them as much water as we could, hoping the rain and storm surge come soon enough to save them." According to some reports, the animals were eventually moved to deep enough water where they could swim off.
Gizmodo reached out to Sechler for further comment, but had not heard back at time of writing.
#Irma has started here in Florida. Went out to the bay and saw two objects out where the water receded, so we took off our shoes and walked out through the shells to find two beached manatees. One wasn't moving, the other was breathing and had water in its eyes. My friends and I couldn't move these massive animals ourselves, and we called every service we could think of, but no one answered. We gave them as much water as we could, hoping the rain and storm surge come soon enough to save them ?.#hurricaneirma
Probably the most iconic photos of animals weathering Florida — well, Florida's weather — come from flamingoes. There are some famous shots of flamingoes huddled in the Zoo Miami bathrooms after Hurricanes Andrew and Floyd. This time around, Miami's largest zoo moved its flamingoes into a concrete enclosure — quite an upgrade.
"We don't evacuate our animals since hurricanes can change direction at the last minute and you run the risk of evacuating to a more dangerous location," the zoo wrote on Facebook. "Furthermore, the stress of moving the animals can be more dangerous than riding out the storm. The animals that are considered dangerous will stay in their secure night houses, which are made of poured concrete and welded metal." Gizmodo has reached out to Zoo Miami for updates on the animals.
Florida's primary concern will continue to be making sure that its many residents are safe with power restored. Zoo animals have teams in place to assist them, but many stranded animals will need help in the aftermath of Irma. If you're looking to help out, you can donate to the Humane Society's Disaster Relief Fund.