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How Zoos Prepare For Hurricanes

Do the lions, tigers and bears evacuate too?

As the planes stopped flying and highway traffic started to slow ahead of Hurricane Irma, apes, lions and flamingos were some of the last Florida residents still standing.

That’s because zoo officials usually consider it better not to evacuate their animals in the face of a natural disaster, representatives of many zoos have said in the wake of Hurricane Harvey and, now, Irma.

“That’s probably the No. 1 question I get asked: ‘Oh my God, when are you going to evacuate animals?'” Ron Magill, communications director at Zoo Miami, told NPR. “We are never going to evacuate animals.”

In fact, NPR reports the zoo’s flamingos once spent a hurricane in the men’s restroom:

While humans can easily jump in a car and drive away, evacuating a zoo full of wild animals could make them less safe.

“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,” according to the Zoo Miami’s Facebook page.

The Brevard Zoo in Melbourne, Florida, has the same outlook.

“Most (animals) kind of hunker down, just kind of stay still, stay in one spot, kind of let it pass. There are some that can get a little nervous and flighty. But for the most part, they deal with it kind of how they would in the wild,” collection manager Lauren Hinson told USA Today.

But don’t expect to see any more photos of zoo animals in restrooms emerging after Irma. Zoo spokespeople say their animals’ structures are now built to withstand weather events, so ideally, the zoo inhabitants don’t need to leave their enclosures at all.

Zoo Miami’s Magill told USA Today the small animals were brought inside, while the large animals are in their night houses. If an angry gorilla can’t escape from a concrete night house, hopefully a hurricane can’t do any damage, either!

As for animals who wouldn’t fare so well during a hurricane, like dogs and cats in animal shelters? The best case scenario is that they get a little help with evacuation from their human friends, like this Southwest Airlines flight full of cats and dogs who were flown to safety from a shelter in Texas.