Watch this video of the Zoo’s flooded main entrance
Thank you so much for being part of our Zoo family and supporting us. We’ve heard from many of you during and since Hurricane Ian expressing concern for our animals, staff, and the Zoo, and we could not be more grateful to know you are there to care for and support us in hard times.
The most important thing I can share with you is that all the animals in our care and all the members of our team are safe and healthy. Like many of you, both personally and at work, members of our team are dealing with damages and losses, but the team’s unwavering determination to put the needs of the animals in our care first has been truly special to watch.
We had a ride-out team of 11 animal care, veterinary, and facility professionals stay at the Zoo 24 hours a day last Wednesday through Friday to make sure all our animals remained safe and received the care they needed throughout Hurricane Ian’s approach and impact. All our animals had safe, secure housing in which they could weather the storm. We also moved all our birds indoors to provide them additional protection from the storm.
Hurricane Ian did considerable damage around the Zoo grounds, but thankfully none that put the people or animals onsite in danger. Walking the property on Friday when the rest of the staff was able to get back onsite, there were many felled trees, damage to fences, two buildings that experienced water damage, and debris everywhere, including all over the pathways.
Wayne M. Densch Discovery Center Damaged
Hardest hit was our Wayne Densch Discovery Center, home of educational classrooms, event space, our insect zoo, and some offices. With backflow water coming up through bathroom drains and storm water breaching the back of the building, there was standing water that left lasting damage. We expect the building to be closed for repairs for a month or more.
From Friday, September 30, through Sunday, October 2, large numbers of staff members and volunteers assembled at the Zoo and did an amazing job of clearing the Zoo pathways and cleaning up damage. When we left on Sunday evening, we were hopeful we’d be able to reopen by midweek. Unfortunately, the situation changed overnight.
In the aftermath of a major storm in this area, storm water eventually flows back through the Zoo property and other areas surrounding Seminole Boulevard toward Lake Monroe. That storm water started to rise quickly Sunday night, and by the time we arrived early Monday morning, the road in and out of the Zoo was flooded in some places. It was clear by the rate the water had risen overnight that it would not be passable for cars by sometime Monday afternoon. Thus, we evacuated all non-essential staff and volunteers that morning.
We developed a plan for how we would get essential staff in and out to care for the animals and maintain the Zoo property daily (including a plan for a second ride-out team if that became necessary), and we have been carefully transporting essential staff on and off property since Monday, October 3.
Based on forecasts, Lake Monroe is expected to crest on Friday, October 7, and the storm water will slowly start to recede after that. We’ve been told to expect water levels to recede enough for our road in and out to be safe for traffic mid-to-late next week. Our reopening date will be dependent on how fast the water recedes and when the road becomes safe for traffic. We will only reopen the Zoo when we are sure the road and grounds are safe for everyone.
In the meantime, we will continue to shuttle essential staff in daily to make sure our animals get everything they need. And when the day comes that we can reopen, our team will be extremely excited to welcome you all back to the Zoo. They have truly missed sharing their passion for our animals and conservation with you. It’s also clear that many of the animals are wondering where all the people have been – they definitely sense the change to their daily routine.
In response to questions a number of people have asked over the last few days, based on the information we have, we are confident we will be reopened in plenty of time for Zoo Boo Bash to happen as planned the last two weekends of October, as well as for Asian Lantern Festival, which begins on November 18.
How Can You Help?
There’s no question that Hurricane Ian left its mark on your Zoo, as it did to so much of Florida. Between the damages the Zoo sustained and the loss of revenue from being closed for likely more than two weeks while all expenses continue, the Zoo’s financial loss will be substantial. As a private 501(c)(3) nonprofit, we are dependent on the generosity of donors and on the revenue we generate through admission tickets, programs, events, and retail sales to fund our daily operations.
If you are able to support our hurricane recovery efforts, we invite you to click here to make a donation.
Whether you are able to support us financially with a donation at this time or not, we truly appreciate all the support you give us. Our team has been buoyed by all the kind words and concerned questions that have come to us via social media and email as we’ve gone through this. It’s helped them to stay positive and feel deeply appreciated during this difficult time.
We’re excited to get reopened as soon as possible and see you again!
Richard E. Glover, Jr.