Flamingos sheltering in a bathroom for a hurricane?  Call it tradition.

Flamingos sheltering in a bathroom for a hurricane? Call it tradition.

As Hurricane Ian hit southwest Florida on Wednesday, images of devastation dominated television news reports and social media feeds. But one image, taken from a botanical garden in St. Petersburg, was striking for a different reason.

It showed about a dozen flamingos in cotton candy huddled in a public bathroom – a stark contrast to images of Florida’s washed-out bridges, roofless houses and flooded roads.

The birds were thrown into the bathroom because Ian, expected to become a major storm, was expected to cause catastrophic damage to the Tampa Bay area surrounding Sunken Gardens, which is home to a variety of birds and other wildlife.

“The flamingos are having one hell of a hurricane party; eat, drink and dance,” a post on the Botanical Garden’s Instagram page read.

The storm instead hit hardest farther south, making landfall as a Category 4 hurricane and bringing 150 mph winds, storm surges and major destruction. As of Friday morning, more than 2.1 million Florida customers were still without power.

The photo of the flamingos huddled together in the bathroom has gone viral on social media and may have served to lighten the mood amid an otherwise grim crush of bad news. It also reminded another, now iconic photo taken decades earlier during a devastating hurricane.

Before Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 storm, hit South Florida in 1992, a zoologist at what was then Metrozoo (now Zoo Miami) snapped a photo of dozens of flamingos huddled in a bathroom between stalls and sinks – an image that eventually went viral in its own way on the pages of newspapers. The storm was considered directly responsible for the deaths of 23 people and caused damages estimated at $26 billion in the United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The National Weather Service still considers Andrew one of the strongest hurricanes to hit the United States. Ian is also now considered one of the most powerful.

Ron Magill, the Metrozoo photographer and now director of communications at Zoo Miami, told the Washington Post that before Andrew struck in August 1992, animal caretakers hatched a plan to protect the flamingos from storms. devastating.

“Unfortunately they didn’t have a specific building made to protect them at the time,” he said. “So we had to be innovative.”

The zoo toilets were ideal for large birds like flamingos. They served as easy-to-clean “perfect bunkers,” Magill said. Staff members placed hay on the ground, gave the birds food and water, and moved them a day before Andrew made landfall.

As McGill prepared to close the bathroom the day before the storm, he glanced at the birds, huddled together and gazing at themselves in the mirrors above the sinks – a surreal image which he must have captured with his camera.

The next day, the hurricane slammed into South Florida, with the zoo at “ground zero,” Magill said. It sounded like “a 25 mile wide weeder has passed”.

Five mammals and nearly 100 birds died, and the zoo required major repairs, Magill said. But the flamingos survived. “And we realized that if we hadn’t put these flamingos in the bathroom, they would definitely all be dead,said Magill.

As news outlets covered the aftermath of the storm, Magill’s photo of the flamingos in the bathroom was eventually picked up by a major news outlet. “Then all of a sudden it was just everywhere,” Magill said.

“I think people at the time really appreciated that photo because it was a positive aspect where everyone was talking about the destruction, the chaos, the looting and the bad things that were going on,” he said. he adds.

To this day, he still sees the photo on hurricane anniversaries. His 30th came in August. The photo has also been replicated during other major storms, such as a snapshot of flamingos in a Miami Zoo bathroom during Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

And what about the flamingos at Sunken Gardens?

“They’re doing great,” Dwayne Biggs, the botanical garden’s supervising director, told the Miami Herald on Thursday. “The public toilets were perfect.

Seeing these flamingos taking safe shelter in the bathroom this week made Magill smile, he told the Post, adding, “I’d like to believe it’s something they learned from we.”

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