Florida Zoos, Wildlife Centers Hunker Down as Historic Hurricane Irma Approaches

Aldabra tortoises at the Palm Beach Zoo.
Palm Beach Zoo

Zoos and conservation centers in South Florida moved their animals — including howler monkeys, dingoes and turtles — to safety as Hurricane Irma appeared on track to strike this weekend.

At the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society in West Palm Beach, workers began moving smaller animals into facilities that doubled as hurricane shelters on Wednesday morning, said its communications director, Naki Carter.

“We are prepared for the worst and hopeful for the best,” Carter said. “We are preparing for a Category 5 to make direct impact with our zoo.”

The zoo’s tiger, jaguar, bear and Komodo dragon populations would be staying put, she said, because their habitats already double as hurricane shelters.

“They will be locked inside of those shelters before the storm comes,” she said, adding that the zoo’s six-person storm team would monitor Irma from the Animal Care Center, the facility’s largest hurricane shelter.

“That is our command center,” she said, adding, “also our surgery and triage center.”

The zoo has more than 150 animals, 30 percent of which had been relocated by Thursday evening, Carter said. Among them were birds and smaller mammals.

Carter said the zoo had about 10 days of food for most animals, with about a month’s worth for larger animals. The zoo had also made arrangements to get additional food after the storm passes, she said.

Workers boarded up windows and put hurricane-proof shutters and glass in place throughout the 23-acre facility as well.

In a statement Wednesday, the Miami Zoo said it would not evacuate animals “since hurricanes can change direction at the last minute, and you run the risk of evacuating to a more dangerous location.”

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SOURCE: NBC News, Daniella Silva

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