We know about the 2.5 million human residents of Florida who have be ordered to evacuate in preparation for Hurricane Ian. But what about all the animals in the many zoos and wildlife sanctuaries? In Florida, all licensed captive wildlife owners must have individualized storm preparation plans outlined in their required Critical Incident Plan. Zookeepers and animal conservationists have been working hard in recent days to ensure their animal residents remain safe as the major hurricane threatens the region.
More specifically, for the past several days, the veterinary team at the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Sanford has been making sure that zookeepers have all of the adequate medications for animals. And the nutrition team has been planning to make sure that the zoo has plenty of food to get the animals past the next several days and into next week.
The next step is getting the animals into secure enclosures. The good news is that since Florida is often in the path of strong storm systems forming in the Atlantic basin, most organizations are already equipped with enclosures that can withstand hurricane-force winds. For instance, the majority of the habitats at Zoo Tampa have buildings called “night houses” that are attached to them and are constructed with masonry blocks. So the majority of these animals, especially the ones that would be a little more difficult to move, have those buildings attached right to their habitat so it is very easy to put them someplace safe during the storm. The zoo’s contingency plan for storm preparedness paves the way for every animal at the park to have a safe place to go. And what about the really big critters? The elephant’s night house is the “safest building on campus.”
At the Central Florida Zoo and Botanical Gardens, the birds get kenneled and brought into a safe, secure building, where 11 crew members will also be riding out the storm. There, the keepers can keep a “close eye” on them, and make them as comfortable as possible with extra food and blankets, as well as enrichment in the form of toys. The goal is to keep them as happy and safe as possible.
As for the big cats, they are easier to handle due to their learned patterns. They are also used to the frequent thunderstorms Florida experiences in the summer and early fall. The giraffes and rhinoceroses at the Central Florida Zoo get locked into their barn with ample food and water.
Other safety scenarios involve making sure generators are working if the power goes out and in the case of feeding… Much of the population at Carson Springs fasts for one or two days a week — something they would also do in the wild. Their keepers are planning to have them fast on Thursday, when central Florida will experience the worst of the hurricane. At Central Florida Animal Reserve, most of the residents — primarily big cats — already received a “special” early morning feed on Wednesday so they are feeling quite healthy and happy before the big storm rolls in.
Now that all of the preparations have been made, all that is left to do is hunker down and wait for the storm to pass.