Miami-Dade County

Zoo Miami reopens Thursday after flood recedes

The usually dry mote around the elephant exhibit is full of water at Zoo Miami.
The usually dry mote around the elephant exhibit is full of water at Zoo Miami.

After a weekend deluge forced it to close for five days, Zoo Miami is reopening its gates Thursday.

The county-owned tourist attraction remained closed Wednesday in the wake of flooding that swamped walkways and left zoo operators concerned lions could swim across flooded moats that help keep the carnivores at bay.

Ron Magill, communications director at the zoo, said only more heavy rain would force another day of closure. The National Weather Service is not predicting downpours, with a 20 percent chance of rain overnight.

 "There will only be two or three minor antelope exhibits that will remain closed," Magill said Thursday morning.

The five-day closure was the longest the zoo has been closed since Hurricane Wilma struck in 2005. The zoo shut down early Saturday during a relentless rainstorm that stretched into Sunday. Magill said there was not significant damage at the zoo beyond lost revenue from what should have been about 10,000 visitors during the five-day closure of the facility, which sits off Southwest 152nd Street and 124th Avenue in Southwest Miami-Dade.

Moats separating animals from spectators were a significant problem, as floodwaters remained for days after the rain stopped. Magill said some exhibits will probably remain closed Thursday thanks to higher water levels — baby antelopes could still drown in the moat surrounding that habitat, and it wasn’t until Wednesday that waters had dropped enough in the primate exhibit to let them wander outside.

“We finally let the chimps out today,” Magill said. “They definitely were experiencing what looked like cabin fever.”

Deep-water moats presented the most alarming problems during the flood. During normal conditions, a lion swimming across the moat would meet an eight-foot wall separating it from spectators. But at the height of the flood, only about 12 inches of that wall remained above the surface, Magill said.

“It’s like an infinity pool,” he said. “Swim to the edge, and you’re out.”

The moat water levels have lowered significantly enough to let the lions out, and the exhibit will reopen on Thursday.

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