This week, hurricane Florence, a category-5 storm, is gearing up to kick the Carolinas in their short and curlies. Climate change implications aside for the moment, Florence is projected to hit the US as the northernmost category-5 storm ever. And it’s currently pointing itself at what Carolinians (ed. note: Caroliners? Carolinears? Caroloins?) call “low country”, because “coastal bog” doesn’t have as nice a ring to it.
The governor of South Carolina ordered a mandatory evacuation of all coastal residents on Monday, and the governor of North Carolina followed suit the next day. And that’s probably smart, considering a gigantic whirlpool of hate, rain, and wind is currently pointed at all those “we rated our construction for much smaller storms” houses.
But what about those residents who CAN’T leave. No, I don’t mean the disenfranchised or the poor or the elderly, all of whom make up a substantial portion of the Carolina coastal residents. That’s a whole ‘nother issue for another time. No, I’m talking about the zoos in the Carolinas. What happens to the elephants, the flamingos, the heffalumps (ed. note: not a thing), the jackalopes (ed. note: also no), and the naked mole rats (ed. note: this one is real and it looks like a ballsack with teeth) who all can’t relocate to a Holiday Inn farther inland?
Turns out all zoos that are affiliated with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which is pretty much all zoos in the US and abroad – more than 230 worldwide, requires all member zoos have disaster emergency plans for things like hurricanes. These plans were created in part in 2005 after hurricanes Katrina and Irma caused extended power outages at the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, resulting in the loss of more than 10,000 fish. Since then, zoos and aquariums have taken a much more programmatic approach to hurricane prep, as well as public communication. As hurricane Irma bore down on Miami in 2017, Zoo Miami posted the following on their Facebook page.
“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. 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. These animals survived [Hurricane] Andrew without injuries. We’ve loaded up on additional food and water, our generators have been tested and ready to go. In addition, we’ve stored all cycles and removed debris.“
This forward planning sometimes leads to unusual scenarios, like when Zoo Miami’s flamingos were housed in the men’s room for their safety…
So when you’re watching the hurricane coverage over the next few days, think about all the captive critters riding out the storm in less than perfect accommodations. And to everyone anywhere currently in the path of Florence – stay safe, nail down the pool toys, and try not to think about naked mole rats.