The news and images out of Florida this past week have been heartbreaking. The country has watched in horror as millions of people evacuated their homes as Irma approached, and entire cities flooded as a result of the force of the epic storm.
But as is always the case with tragedies and disasters, the most difficult situations brought out the best in people. As Irma unfolded, stories poured in of people doing amazing things to help one another. A man took the last generator out of his cart and gave it to a stranger who needed it more. A bakery handed out free coffee to people waiting in gas lines. A small town in Georgia came together to offer free food to evacuees.
And the generosity extended to animals as well. People stopped to rescue manatees that had been beached by the storm. Chickens were evacuated in the backseats of cars. Staff members at the famous Hemingway House in Key West stayed behind to care for the 55 cats that live there (and they’re all fine!).
One particularly special example of disaster bringing out the best in people? The employees at the Buterfly Rainforest at the Florida Museum of Natural History in Gainesville took the time to evacuate hundreds of the butterflies that live there.
It was, perhaps, the most gentle evacuation ever. Photos posted by Geena Hill, a research assistant at the museum, show employees using butterfly nets to carefully collect the beautiful, fragile creatures.
“We took precautions for the butterflies by bringing them indoors,” Hill told BuzzFeed. “We also wanted to ensure that none of the butterflies escaped since many of them are non-native species.”
The museum’s Butterfly Rainforest is home to 1,000 to 1,200 butterflies at any given time. The enclosure is set up to withstand strong storms, but just to be safe, the butterflies were taken to the museum’s lab, where they will ride out the storm in specially equipped “flight cages.” The butterflies that were evacuated include two critically endangered species that are found only in the Florida Keys: the Miami Blue and the Schaus’ Swallowtail.
The butterflies remained safe through the storm, but it remains to be seen how their native habitat will recover.
“We are not sure of the current status of the wild populations and their habitat. The current populations occur on remote islands in the Keys,” Hill said. “Hurricane Irma may have done a significant amount of damage to them.”