South Florida’s attractions suffered severe damage during Irma. But most animals survived

Before Hurricane Irma scraped past South Florida Sunday, Monkey Jungle — and its 300 monkeys — was well-prepped to weather the storm.

After near-devastation in Hurricane Andrew, the South Miami-Dade park was set up with food, supplies and a generator that would keep the 9-foot-tall electrified fence that holds the monkeys inside functioning. (Monkey Jungle bills itself as a place where the “humans are caged and the monkeys run wild.”) Staffers rode out the storm with the animals at the park, Monkey Jungle told USA Today.

But Irma’s furious winds tore through the 84-year-old park Sunday. As in Andrew, fences were crushed. Roofs were lifted off their structures. And power was lost, meaning the park had no electricity for the pump that delivers water to animals in their enclosures. Fallen trees caused most of the damage, and Monkey Jungle’s 30 acres of banyan and bamboo trees suffered extensively.

“We are sad to report that the more we walk around the Monkey Jungle, the more fallen trees we come across,” the park said on Facebook. “Now that Hurricane Irma has cleared, we need to move these big and small trees off of the animal enclosures, buildings and fences they have fallen onto. Removing the trees and repairing the damage is turning out to be a pretty big job.”

Across South Florida, the extent of Irma’s damage at area attractions was only beginning to be determined early this week as staff returned to parks, checked on animals and started the cleanup process. Trees, it seems, were Irma’s primary victim, leaving locations like Monkey Jungle and Jungle Island on Watson Island more susceptible to damage.

The destruction at Monkey Jungle was among the most severe in South Florida. It is unclear when the park will be able to reopen.

In an effort to kick start the extensive restoration process, Monkey Jungle is looking for help finding contractors who are able to come rebuild the park — both for pay and as volunteers.

Monkey Jungle is seeking professional contractors who cut fallen trees with chainsaws, fix damaged tin and corrugated metal roofs, and repair and install chain-link fences, as well as nonprofessional volunteers who can help with clearing debris, planting trees, and repairing paths at a later date. Professional contractors who would want to volunteer their time are also welcome, Monkey Jungle said.

It has also set up a GoFundMe campaign to collect donations for the restoration effort. As of Wednesday afternoon, the park had collected about $5,500 of its $22,000 goal.

Here is how the rest of South Florida’s major attractions survived Irma:

Jungle Island

All of Jungle Island’s 600 monkeys, birds and other animals weathered Hurricane Irma “just beautifully” — but the park, “not so much,” Christopher Gould, the park’s managing director, said Monday.

“We have weeks of work ahead of us to overcome this type of damage,” said Gould, who rode out Hurricane Irma at the theme park with about 10 other people. “Our landscape director, who was with the company during Hurricane Andrew [in 1992], said the tree damage was worse this time around.”

Gould put the damage at “hundreds of thousands of dollars” with dozens of trees down everywhere. It’s unclear when the park will reopen.

After Hurricane Andrew, the park, then called Parrot Jungle and located in Pinecrest, suffered nearly $5 million in damages and was closed for three weeks. The park had been there since 1936, but in 2003, it moved to a 17-acre spread on Watson Island .

Before the storm, the animals — ranging from birds to primates to other mammals — were secured in hurricane-proof enclosures. Animal specialists were on hand during the storm to help the animals deal with the stress of being moved out of their habitats, Gould said.

Afterward Gould said, “Complete pathways were blocked. … You really couldn’t get anywhere without a chainsaw.”

All the animals were back into their habitats — which did not suffer major damage — Monday. Gould said the animals were unscathed.

Zoo Miami

Zoo Miami, which was devastated 25 years ago by Hurricane Andrew, will likely be closed for weeks after Hurricane Irma’s winds knocked down “a tremendous amount of trees,” said zoo spokesman Ron Magill.

But unlike Andrew, which required a complete rebuilding of the park, Irma is going to be more about cleanup.

While most of the animals survived, a handful of birds including a flamingo and a Great Indian Hornbill didn’t make it. Magill said the birds were moved to an inside structure for the storm and were not killed by wind or debris. He said stress was the likely cause, but necropsies will be conducted.

The positive, though: A day-old anoa, a rare wild cow from Cambodia, survived just fine. As did several other newborn animals.

“Overall, we did OK,” he said.

The most severe damage occurred in the Amazon and Beyond Exhibit, where there was so much debris, Magill said he couldn’t even make his way through the paths.

“Monster trees are tipped over,” he said.

Magill said workers were going to do their best to save as many trees as possible.

“The exhibit is unrecognizable,” he said. “I think when we look back, that will be the biggest scar of Irma.”

Miami Seaquarium

At Miami Seaquarium in Key Biscayne, nearly all the animals survived the impact of Irma, but the park itself suffered some structural damage.

Most of the buzz post-storm was whether star attraction and killer whale Lolita, who is more than 50 years old, survived the storm.

She did, the park said Tuesday. Lolita remained in her pool during the storm as she has since her arrival at the park in 1970, but with additional protections to ensure her safety, said general manager Andrew Hertz.

“The roof structure over the guest seating area was recently replaced and reinforced, and it held strong without any damage,” Hertz said in a statement. “In addition, two recently purchased 300 [kilowatt] generators are located on site, to ensure that the water in Lolita’s habitat will continue to circulate and remain climate-controlled to her optimum comfort, in the event the park were to lose power.”

Post-storm, Lolita and her companion dolphins were “in good health and doing well,” he said.

All other marine mammals, including dolphins, seals and sea lions, are safe following the storm. Fish in the Seaquarium’s several aquariums also survived. But seven Nile crocodiles, part of a group of 12 that were transferred to a holding pool on higher ground, died during the storm.

The cause is believed to be the stress of their handling, transport and relocation, Hertz said.

Before Irma arrived in South Florida, the Seaquarium moved animals in low-lying enclosures to higher enclosures, including the crocodiles and five Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in its Flipper lagoon that were moved to a pool at the park’s Golden Dome. The park also prepared for Irma by securing structures, removing anything that could become airborne and providing food and water for the animals as needed.

The shark channel in a low-lying area of the park suffered from a two-foot storm surge which brought “a significant amount” of seaweed and particles into the pool. The Seaquarium said that two aerators are working to maintain oxygen levels for fish in that enclosure. While the staff has spotted nursing sharks in the channel, but, because of the turbid waters, it’s still to early to tell how many fish, if any, died during the storm.

In terms of structural damage, the Seaquarium sustained roof damage and had several trees down, but the full extent of the damage is still unknown as the park continues to evaluate the aftermath of Irma.

The Seaquarium has not yet set a date for reopening, Hertz said.

Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens

Twenty-five years ago this week, in the wake of Hurricane Andrew, botanists from all over the world converged on Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden and sifted through 83 acres of storm-ravaged palms, cycads, orchids and bromeliads to save the few plants that remained.

The Coral Gables tourist attraction lost 75 percent of its species to Andrew, including 1,000 palm trees that couldn’t withstand the 140 to 160 mph winds and 16-foot surge.

Hurricane Irma was kinder to the garden, which sits east of Old Cutler Road, along Biscayne Bay.

“We did much better than in Andrew, as we didn’t have the same intensity of wind or storm surge as we did then,” said Fairchild Director Carl Lewis. “It’s very messy right now, but it’s mostly debris. The vast majority of our palm trees are looking really good. We had some damage to trees, but our most valuable species are salvageable.”

Lewis was happy to report that “our big three” — the iconic Rainbow Eucalyptus, African Baobob and Cannonball Tree — were “bruised but standing strong.”

The butterfly enclosure also survived relatively unscathed. Volunteers and staff captured all the butterflies before the hurricane and they were kept indoors, along with branches of flowering trees for nourishment. They will be released back into their enclosure in the next few days.

The Fairchild Garden grounds crew will get to work on Wednesday, and volunteers will join the clean-up effort on Thursday. The garden is expected to reopen sometime in the next two weeks.

“We had no structural damage, not a scratch on all the buildings we put up in the last 16 years,” said Bruce Greer, president of the Fairchild Board of Trustees. “I am proud of the people who built them, and the donors. We are very relieved that we fared as well as we did.”

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

At Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, just south of Brickell and on Biscayne Bay, the historic landmark suffered a “tremendous amount of devastation,” executive director Joel Hoffman told the Herald.

“Our natural hardwood hammock suffered a lot of wind devastation, and storm surge and wind along the waterfront has also caused a great deal of damage,” he said.

The landmark is especially susceptible to storm surge, so staff prepared for the storm by putting “armor” screens over the glassed-in eastern loggia, which faces the open water and the main entrance. Basement openings were sealed with heavy hurricane doors and the café was also equipped with hurricane glass. The water level was reduced in the swimming pool grotto next to it.

Despite preparations, the mansion still suffered some water damage. The worst of it was on the north side, where there was flooding in the orchid garden and the café and shop.

However, the interior of the home came out largely intact, Hoffman said, save for some water infiltration.

“We have an enormous amount of clean up to do here and right now we are just assessing,” Hoffman said.

Deering Estate

At the more than 450-acre Deering Estate on Biscayne Bay, trees suffered the most damage, but the historic buildings held up during the storm.

Irma’s winds destroyed 80 percent of the estate’s tree canopy, with 20 percent of those impacted being large heritage trees. The hardwood hammock suffered the most, but large oaks held through the wind well, the estate said.

Heritage avocado and mango groves suffered 10 percent tree loss. The mangroves also held strong, with about only 5 percent hurt in the storm. But the Mangrove Boardwalk on the property washed inland from the storm surge and was at least 50 percent destroyed.

During Irma, about 6,000 cubic yards of seaweed washed ashore onto the historic property.

Still, the estate’s buildings were left largely undamaged after the storm and, after an assessment from the county and the Florida Public Archeological Network, the estate’s archeological sites were deemed intact as well.

The estate is offering free admission Saturday and Sunday, and next weekend, Sept. 23 and Sept. 24, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. While the lawns will be open to visitors, the homes will be closed. It’s unclear when the homes will reopen, the estate said, based on when power is restored “and other factors.”

Coral Castle

Coral Castle, the mysterious rock monument to love in Homestead, seems to be an anti-hurricane fortress. Like it did with Hurricane Andrew, Coral Castle sustained no damage whatsoever during Irma, said general manager Laura Maye.

The complex lost some trees, but the megalithic stone structures, built by Latvian immigrant Ed Leedskalnin between 1923 and 1951, held up. The museum still has no power and will likely reopen Monday with buy one, get one free admission.

“Actually it looks like someone washed it,” Maye said. “It got a free cleaning.”

Theater of the Sea

Theater of the Sea, a marine park in Islamorada, was able to weather Irma despite being in its direct path. Most of the Florida Keys were devastated by the storm.

Jeremy Hauwelaert, director of sales and marketing at Theater of the Sea, said the park suffered “minor damages” during Irma, such as a fallen fence and trees. But all animals were safe and construction crews were on the ground Tuesday ensuring animal enclosures were in good shape.

The park’s staff doesn’t know when it will reopen, and the park has stopped taking reservations, Hauwelaert said. As of Tuesday, Monroe County had imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew to allow clean-up crews to continue working through the damage.

“The question right now would be when FEMA deems it safe for visitors to return to The Keys,” Hauwelaert said.


Miami parks director Kevin Kirwin said his agency was in full clean-up mode Tuesday. Parks in Coconut Grove, such as Kennedy and Peacock parks, were submerged by storm surge.

“We’re just doing clean up right now. We’re getting things cleaned up, but we have to be safe so we can’t go too fast so no one get hurt,” he said.

Miami-Dade Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces is also opening six park recreation centers — with air conditioning — for families without power who want to get out of the house.

As of Thursday, the following recreation centers will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Sunday.

▪ Continental at 10000 SW 82 Avenue in Miami.

▪ North Point YMCA at 7351 NW 186 Street in Miami. North Point has lifted its membership to open to the public and has showers and a lounge available.

▪ Goulds Park at 11350 SW 216 St. in Miami with capacity for 150.

▪ Deerwood Bonita Lakes at 14445 SW 122 Ave. in Miami, with capacity for 150 maximum.

▪ Gwen Cherry at 7090 NW 22 Ave. with capacity for 60.

▪ Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial at 6000 NW 32 Court in Miami with capacity for 60.

Parents can leave their children ages 6 to 14 at the recreation center to be supervised by park staff. Children under 6 years old must be accompanied by an adult. Guest should bring lunch and drinks, Miami-Dade Parks said.

The department is also opening four pools from noon to 5 p.m. beginning Thursday.

▪ Goulds at 11350 SW 216 St. in Miami

▪ Tamiami at 11201 SW 24 Street in Miami.

▪ Rockway at 9460 SW 27 Drive in Miami.

▪ Palm Springs North at 7901 NW 176 Street in Miami.

Peréz Art Museum Miami, downtown

The bayfront museum escaped damage, said a spokesman via email. Power remained on throughout the storm and all artworks are fine. Landscaping sustained minor damage.

The museum plans to reopen Thursday and will offer free admission Thursday and Friday.

Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science

The new Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, in Museum Park in downtown Miami, passed its first storm test with flying colors, said spokesman Joseph Quiñones.

All exhibits are intact and no water intrusion was reported, he said. Outdoor roof exhibits were brought inside before the storm for protection.

Though the museum has generators to power life-support systems for its fish and wildlife, the power never went out. And there was no flooding, though the building is designed to allow surge to pass through the basement parking garage.

The museum plans to reopen Friday, Quiñones added, with free admission for first responders, active duty military, retired military and veterans with a valid ID (with up to five family members), from Sept.15 through Oct.1.

Miami Children’s Museum

Miami Children’s Muesum opened Wednesday.

Chabeli Herrera: 305-376-3730, @ChabeliH

Andres Viglucci: 305-376-3465, @AndresViglucci

Carli Teproff: 305-376-3587, @CTeproff

Michelle Kaufman: 305-376-3438, @kaufsports

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