It’s not just humans bracing for Hurricane Irma.
More than 2,000 alligators are hunkering down at the Gatorland wildlife reserve in Orlando, Florida, as park officials assure tourists and locals not to worry ― these gators aren’t going anywhere.
“This isn’t our first rodeo,” park director Mike Hileman told HuffPost on Saturday as his employees prepared to close the 110-acre theme park, located roughly 13 miles outside of Walt Disney World.
“We have a detailed hurricane procedure in place,” he assured. “We have double fences, a large perimeter fence that goes around the entire property.”
The assurance came just weeks after Hurricane Harvey struck southeastern Texas, with its powerful floodwaters threatening the release of hundreds of gators from Gator Country, an animal sanctuary in Beaumont. There, water nearly flooded over fences surrounding their reptiles, threatening their escape.
At Gatorland, where the largest gators are 14-feet long, Hileman insisted that even if one of their eight-feet-tall fences gets destroyed or blown away, “they are still not getting off of this property.”
That’s even with most of the gators preparing to ride out the storm in their outside pools. Many of the park’s other residents ― including panthers, bobcats, goats, birds, raccoons and snakes ― had to be moved inside, he said.
Videos taken inside the park on Saturday showed Gatorland employees carrying pythons around their shoulders and legs as they moved the reptiles to secure facilities. Another video showed what appeared to be dozens of baby gators being moved into a fresh pool of water.
Then there was Bullet, one of the park’s smaller gators that was born with just three legs. That little guy was filmed relocating alongside employee Savannah Boan.
“Come on, let’s go for a walk!” she cheerfully called to him as he shuffled at her feet.
The moves came as South Florida braces for maximum sustained winds of 125 mph. As of Saturday evening, Central Florida is expected to see major flooding from rain as well as structural damage to buildings due to high winds, according to the National Weather Service.
Hileman, however, assured that they’re ready for anything.
In addition to the fences surrounding the property, the grounds are equipped with a water pumping system, which would allow employees to lower the water levels if it gets too high. A five-person team will also stay on the property throughout the storm, allowing them to monitor its fences should they fall or get destroyed, he said.
“Once the winds are around 30-35 mph, they’ll go out to check perimeter fences,” Hileman said.
In a video posted to Facebook Friday evening, the park’s president and CEO Mark McHugh posed with several gators along a packed shoreline where he repeated the assurance: “None of our animals are getting out.”
“We’ve been fighting big hurricanes and nasty storms since 1949,” he said, referencing the date the park first opened. “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.”
See How Miami’s Biggest Zoo Is Preparing For Hurricane Irma
Preparing for a major hurricane is even more complicated when you have more than 3,000 wild animals in your care.
Zoo Miami, also known as the Miami-Dade Zoological Park and Gardens, has spent the past few days making sure its facilities are ready for the wrath of Hurricane Irma, which is now expected to make landfall in Florida on Sunday.
There are several reasons why it doesn’t make sense to evacuate thousands of animals from the zoo, communications director Ron Magill told NPR this week. For one thing, transporting the animals can cause stress so great that it could kill them. Plus, the zoo wrote on Facebook, hurricanes’ paths can change so quickly that evacuating the animals could wind up putting them in more danger.
Magill told the Miami Herald that the zoo learned a lot of lessons after weathering Hurricane Andrew 25 years ago. That was the first time the zoo herded a flock of flamingos into a bathroom, resulting in an iconic, widely circulated photo. Flamingos rode out the storm in bathrooms during Hurricanes Georges and Floyd, too.
This time around, the flamingos, like many of the zoo’s residents, will be kept inside concrete enclosures that Magill told NPR are strong enough to withstand “the strength of a major hurricane.”
Take a look at some of the photos of the zoo readying animals for the storm: