The Sunken Gardens flamingos are still in the bathroom. Don’t worry, they’re fine.
On the day Hurricane Ian slammed into Florida, the century-old roadside attraction posted a photo of its Chilean flamingos huddled in front of the restroom. The Instagram caption of the now-viral image described the animals, “having all the hurricane party; eat, drink and dance.
“It was mainly for our members and the people who follow us,” said supervising director Dwayne Biggs. “It spread all over the country.”
Sunken Gardens began preparing for the storm last week. The animals, which are used to spending the night indoors, often weather the storms in another hurricane-proof building on the premises.
But with projections calling for a catastrophic storm heading directly for Tampa Bay, Sunken Gardens didn’t want to take any chances. The animals took refuge in the main building, a two-story fortress supported by steel beams.
The herd went to the women’s washroom off the main hall. If you stopped to use the restroom before visiting the gift shop, maybe the photo looked familiar.
“We’re going to sterilize it and then clean it,” Biggs said with a laugh Thursday. “We’re going to get them out first thing tomorrow morning. »
The ladies’ room is not a bad place for a group of tropical birds. There are tiled and waterproof stalls, as well as drains all over the floor.
“It’s actually pretty close to what you would design for a nighttime animal facility,” he said. “And it was the perfect size for our 21 flamingos.”
With the exception of the koi fish that swim in the garden ponds, all animals have holed up in the main building. Enclosures for other birds – including macaws, Amazon parrots, cockatoos and an Australian kookaburra – have been moved to a classroom. Just over a dozen red-footed turtles burrowed into a straw-lined water trough in the men’s restroom.
The flamingos needed extra care. Three staff members took turns bringing the birds one by one.
“There is a special technique to transport them safely,” Biggs said. “Their legs are very delicate, so there’s a certain way of grabbing the legs and tucking them under and cuddling them… It took a while.”
They spent the storm huddled together and gobbling down their usual meal of flamingo-soaked pellets. Biggs checked them every hour of the night.
After a whirlwind 48 hours in the gardens, he finally returns home. The flamingos will stay in the bathroom one more night, to allow time for the wind to die down and for the workers to clean up the debris. Since the storm was not as severe as forecasters feared, Sunken Gardens hopes to reopen on Saturday morning. A wedding is scheduled for this afternoon.
While the herd is yet to move, their photo continues to fly around the internet.
“I’m glad we released this,” Biggs said. “It’s kind of provided some air here after this storm.”
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Coverage of Hurricane Ian by the Tampa Bay Times
HOW TO HELP: Where to donate or volunteer to help Hurricane Ian victims.
TAMPA BAY CLOSURES: What to know about bridges and roads after Ian
WHEN THE STORM HAS PASSED: Now what? Safety tips for returning home.
QUESTIONS AFTER THE STORM: After Hurricane Ian, how to get help with fallen trees, food, damaged shelter.
WEATHER EFFECTS: Hurricane Ian was supposed to hit Tampa Bay with full force. What happened?
WHAT TO DO IF A HURRICANE DAMAGES YOUR HOME: Stay calm, then call your insurance company.
SCHOOLS: Will schools reopen soon after Hurricane Ian hits? It depends.
MORE STORM COVERAGE: Get ready and stay informed about tampabay.com/hurricane.