Evacuating for Irma? The lions, gators, bears, and one croc are not

Gators, tigers and bears: what happens to the animals when a hurricane arrives

Various animal preserves along the Grand Strand discuss preparations for the massive storm.
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Various animal preserves along the Grand Strand discuss preparations for the massive storm.

While the Category 5 Hurricane Irma is heading toward Florida, people in the Carolinas are getting ready to feel the the affects of the storm as well.

It’s not just people who have to be prepared. The alligators, bears, tigers, cheetahs and one crocodile living in Myrtle Beach’s various zoos are also riding out the storm.

But local zookeepers say they are prepared.

“The main facility here made it though Hugo,” said Bhagavan Antle, director of rare species fund and Myrtle Beach Safari in Socastee.

The safari has around 90 big cats including tigers and cheetahs. They’re housed in a large barn that sits on the property.

The barn has been reinforced since Hugo, said Antle, and the animals can be locked in there during a storm.

The zoo has the ability to evacuate to Tennessee if a large storm like a Category 5 hurricane hits the area, but if not, Antle is staying put. The preserve sits on top of a dome, and he says the property doesn’t flood.

Alligator Adventure, home to more than 200 species of animals, is also making preparations.

“About four or five days beforehand is when we really know what’s going to be a reliable path,” said park director Ken Alfieri. “At that point we decide who’s coming in, who’s getting packed up, who’s gonna actually be hauled away.”

Alfieri said the property has a history of flooding, but he isn’t worried.

“The alligators can get out of their enclosure inside the park; they can’t begin to get outside the park,” he said. “We have steel sheet piling around the entire park, and 8-foot fences. And that’s double 8-foot fences. We’ve never had a single animal breach those or even come close to it.”

But the alligators aren’t evacuating during a storm.

“The alligators are easy, they don’t really go anywhere,” he said. “They’ll be swimming around a little bit, they’ll sink down and stay underwater for the storm and it doesn’t affect them. We have more problems with things like our birds, which have to be caged and moved.”

Waccatee Zoo head zookeeper Jeff Futrell said all his animals are secured before a storm.

“All of our animals, the stuff that needs to be and would be dangerous has hidden bunkers and they’re put inside the bunkers at a reasonable time before the storm was to hit,” he said.

Christian Boschult: 843-626-0218, @TSN_Christian