Hurricane Irma shut down Zoo Miami for a month. The gates will open again soon

AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiherald.com

A month after Hurricane Irma’s winds forced Zoo Miami staffers to shut down and move its animals to safer shelter, the South Miami-Dade attraction is reopening to the public later this month, it announced Tuesday.

The zoo will admit visitors again starting Oct. 14, with 50 percent off admission during the first weekend. The zoo will also hand out free sunglasses to the first 1,000 visitors each day.

“We greatly look forward to opening Zoo Miami again,” zoo director Carol Kruse said in a statement. “We are grateful that the damage wasn’t worse and are ecstatic to be opening our gates to welcome our visitors back.”

About 3,000 animals were evacuated into steel and concrete bunkers on the zoo’s 750-acre campus before the storm hit, though a handful of fish and birds — including a flamingo and a Great Indian Hornbill — died due to stress from the storm, the zoo said.

The zoo also suffered some downed fences and trees, particularly in the Amazon and Beyond Exhibit where the debris completely blocked the exhibit’s paths.

The zoo has had ongoing issues with flooding and closed briefly earlier this summer during a heavy spell of rain in June.

But last month’s storm largely spared the zoo the kind of lashing it received from Hurricane Andrew 25 years ago, when Category 5 winds damaged what was then called the Miami Metrozoo so extensively it took four months to rebuild and reopen. During that hurricane, zoo staff had to round up the animals into whatever safe shelter they could find, including the men’s bathroom for its herd of flamingos.

For Hurricane Irma, the zoo remained closed for a month while it cleared out debris and moved the animals back into their usual enclosures. It also served as a staging area for Florida Power & Light and other utility companies, which needed a place to store trucks restoring power across the county, the zoo said.

The Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens, which was significantly closer to Irma’s path and suffered substantial damage to its botanical garden, is also reopening the same weekend.

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