Hurricane Irma is bringing rain, wind and dangerous storm surge throughout the state of Florida. But in Orlando, one theme park is rushing to assure people that their signature attraction — alligators — won’t escape and become part of the danger.
Gatorland wildlife reserve in Orlando, Florida, is home to thousands of alligators, raccoons, poisonous snakes and other animals, and in preparation for Irma, many of the animals were secured indoors to prevent escape, according to the Orlando Sentinel. But when it came to the park’s 2,000 or so alligators, park director Mike Hileman said the best thing to do was pretty much leave them alone.
“Alligators and crocs, they couldn’t care less,” Hileman told the Sentinel. “This isn’t anything new to them. If it gets real bad, they take a breath and sink to the bottom of the water.”
In a video posted to Facebook, park president Mark McHugh declared to the public: No alligators would escape.
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“If you see an alligator floating down the street right by your house, it ain’t ours. Don’t call us. Call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Department,” McHugh said.
“This isn’t our first rodeo,” Hileman told HuffPost. “We have a detailed hurricane procedure in place. We have double fences, a large perimeter fence that goes around the entire property.”
According to the Facebook video, those fences are eight feet high. HuffPost also reports that the park has a water-pumping system and will have a team staying throughout the storm to monitor the alligators.
Still, Orlando is projected to be hit with winds topping out at 75 miles per hour, according to the Sentinel, and the National Weather Service predicts that central Florida could be hit with more than 15 inches of rain over three days. A flood and hurricane watch have been issued to Orange County, where Gatorland is located.
In Beaumont, Texas, where Hurricane Harvey hit just weeks ago, a similar situation unfolded after the storm caused extensive flooding at Gator Country, a wildlife reserve and tourist attraction with 350 alligators. Gator Country made national headlines when its owner warned that the water was close to reaching the top of the park’s fences, which would allow the alligators to swim free.
At first, the Beaumont Enterprise reported that none of the alligators actually escaped because of the storm. But the Dallas Morning News later quoted the park’s owner as saying that 30 alligators managed to get free.