For his entire adult life, Ron Magill has been responsible for taking care of animals.
Twenty years ago, he was the assistant curator at Miami Metrozoo and the man behind the lens for one of the most famous photos to come out of Hurricane Andrew.
In the picture, a bunch of flamingos huddle in a public restroom in the zoo. Hay covers the tiled floor and a white glare bounces off the tiled walls. The flock of birds looks completely out of place between the sinks and bathroom stalls.
The day before Andrew hit, Magill was nailing plywood over the windows at his house. He was also feeding rhinoceroses and rounding up a couple dozen flamingos.
“I remember thinking, gosh, you know, this hurricane better come after this work because I’m working my butt off and it better not be for nothing,” Magill said.
The staff at Metrozoo waited till the very last minute to move the flamingos. It’s a stressful process for the birds. They can easily break a leg. So, the staff wanted to be as certain as possible that the storm was going to hit.
Around 10 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 23, Ron and a group of his co-workers climbed into the flamingo pond by the zoo’s entrance. They formed a half circle and started advancing on the flamingos.
“That’s when all of the sudden we go: OK, one, two go!” Magill said. “And everybody goes in and just grabs as many flamingos as they can.
“And then we’re handing them up – we’ve got people on the bridge — handing them one by one, and they’re walking them to the bathroom, letting them go in the bathroom, coming back, getting more. A person literally hand walks him, holds him up to his chest, hand walks to the bathroom, opens the bathroom door, lets ‘em go.... It’s the first flamingo that gets in the bathroom that’s kind of freaked out. Oh my God I’m the only one here! It’s just a lot of flapping — and flamingos make a very unattractive sound, RAWG RAWG RAWG…”
After all the flamingos were in the bathroom, Ron looked back and saw a tangled mass of long pink bird legs and necks wedged between the sinks and bathroom stalls.
“Twenty to 30 flamingos just standing there. And they’re all in the corner, hovering in the corner, just kind of looking at you,” Magill said, “and looking at their own reflection in the mirror on the wall over the sink. And you look at their faces and they’re kind of like, what the heck is this?”
The zoo had put the flamingos in the bathroom before, during previous hurricane warnings. But this time, Ron had a camera. He had taken up photography because his research was getting published and he needed photos.
On his days off, Ron would shadow Miami Herald photographers.
“I learned from the guys at the Herald that listen, in journalism, you want to capture a moment, you want to have something that will instill some kind of emotion. And for that reason, I always had a point and shoot camera in my pocket. Always.”
So Magill pulled out his camera.
“I didn’t even look through the view finder,” he said.
And he snapped a shot. The shot, as it would turn out. He had no idea that photo would become an iconic image.
Then, Magill went home to his wife, who was nine months pregnant, in West Kendall . He rode out the storm that would ultimately redefine his community and the zoo he loved.