Sunday, September 17, 2017

Holy Hurricanes, Batman

Whoa, you guys.  Mother Nature has been real active.  So much so, that I feel like a giant blobby blob.  She's out there twirling around at 83598mph, pulling up trees from their roots, flattening houses, and I'm sitting here slumped in my chair wondering where my next cheese fix is going to come from.

Okay, never from a can.

I don't mean to make light of the really scary hurricanes we've seen hit so many places over the past few weeks.  They destroyed lives and livelihoods.  They caused a tremendous amount of damage, especially in places like Houston, Puerto Rico, Haiti and Barbuda. 

There are literally ten zillion (plus or minus) things we could focus on when it comes to penning a blog on hurricanes.  But I want to focus on zoos.  And I want to focus on the positives.  You know why? Because I think we have to sort through some of the dark stuff in order to feel like what we (or rather, those of you who weathered the storms) are doing is important and recognized.

Here are some of the amazing things that I thought came out of the last two hurricane hits from a zoo perspective:

1) The animals came first, without unnecessary risk to humans

Saving some stranded animals at Texas Zoo, nbd

There is a fine line between putting someone in a horrendously dangerous situation just to say you are trying to keep an eye on the animals, and having a skeleton crew stay behind to handle the aftermath of the storm with proper safety precautions in place.  That is probably going to look different, depending on what facility you're at. 

For those of you who do not work in zoos or aquariums, severe weather often requires zookeepers to balance their own safety with their ability to help out during (or really, after) a storm.  That's because no one may be able to get there to help out (you know, tornadoes, hurricanes, and blizzards tend to slow traffic down a little).  Having people live at the zoo ensures that you have qualified, trustworthy people to at LEAST feed the animals and make emergency repairs if possible when it's safe to do so.

If my boss is a crocodile, I will do whatever she effing says

But that's the thing.  You don't "HAVE" to do that.  You could just lock up the zoo and drive away, to evacuate or hunker down in your own house.  You could let fate decide what happens to the critters.  But so many of you didn't.  You knew that when you signed on to take care of animals for a living, you signed on to be there with them, through thick and then. 

I think it was very evident for both hurricanes Harvey and Irma how much people did to make sure EVERYONE was safe.  That is awesome :)  Unsurprising, but still awesome.

2) Six Degrees of Separation and Lots of Love

We don't need no sign!

Dude.  My Facebook was BLOWING UP with storm updates, and 98% of those updates had to do with animals and zoos.  People from across the country were using all of their social networking skills to find out how people were doing.  Honestly, that was the first time I have really experienced something like that to that degree.  I literally had nothing else on my Facebook feed except people saying "THE ANIMALS ARE OKAY", or "ZOO STAFF ARE OKAY" or "HAS ANYONE HEARD FROM XYZ FACILITY? ARE THEY OKAY?"  

I think we were all up late each night, waiting to hear news from the facilities we may never even have stepped foot in, but feel sick not knowing if everyone was okay.

DRC letting first responders meet their amazing dolphins

AND AND AND, the facilities who had a lot of damage (e.g. lost medical supplies, structural damage that has closed down operations indefinitely, etc), they are receiving a lot of love from the rest of us through their GoFundMe-esque type crowdfunding sites.  Not everyone has something to give, but it is really amazing to see people who make $9 an hour find something to give to help.

What a family :)

3) All The Enrichment Fodder You Could Ever Want

In the next few months, we want to see Harvey and Irma-inspired EEDs

This idea actually came from one of the most hilarious, amazing trainers in our community, Meaghan Everything-I-Say-Is-Hilarious.  But you guys, think about it.

Branches.  Branches everywhere.  THINK OF THE ENRICHMENT POSSIBILITIES.  Now that's making lemonade out of lemons.  

4) The Evident Dedication

Island Dolphin Care staff (plus a director) being awesome

Okay, I kind of touched on this in the first part, but I want to shout out to two specific things I have noticed.

FIRST, from my perspective, I have not heard one zookeeper in either hurricane that experienced a direct hit say ANYTHING about how "dedicated" they are.  They have stayed totally focused on the tasks at hand: the animals and rebuilding.  It's another obvious piece of evidence to support what so many of us know: we do this for the animals, not for the glamor.  We don't need to brag or complain, unless we are bragging FOR our animals.  I mean, I get it...if you go through a traumatizing experience where you didn't sleep for three days straight and wondered what the hell was going to happen, I think you earned a right to be like, "Hi, I'm a badass."

Zoo Miami

But it says a lot that you guys didn't.  Wow. 

SECOND, there were a lot of you who did not stay behind at your facility.  I hope you don't think that means you are any less brave, dedicated, or passionate.  It's okay if you weren't scheduled.  It's okay if you had reasons that meant you had to evacuate.  This is a very complicated situation, and no one needs to judge you.  You know why?  Because the team that stuck it out in the storm is just the beginning.  It's what happens NOW that relies so heavily on your ENTIRE team.  The worst of the storm lasted hours at your zoo or aquarium, and it was scary and crazy.  But the process of rebuilding is going to take months, and it's going to take the same emotional strength it would to hunker down in a hurricane or blizzard or alien abduction.  So stop feeling guilty.  Stop it! RIGHT NOW.


I don't know what the rest of this hurricane season will bring.  I don't know how long it will take for you zookeeps in the paths of these crazy storms to get back to normal.  But I know that it shows your true and beautiful colors. 

Here are some of the relief fund pages I could find:

Houston Zoo's hurricane relief page (for both Houston Zoo employees and the AZA fund)
The Texas Zoo

 Clearwater Marine Aquarium
Dolphin Research Center

Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder

Naples Zoo

Zoo Miami

Please feel free to suggest additions to this list; I'll update it as quickly as I can!


1 comment:

  1. Proof that animal caretakers/trainers at zoos and aquariums are the real MVPs