by Jack Mulvena, Naples Zoo Presidentand CEO, and Kelsey Burr, Naples Zoo Marketing Associate
Hurricane Irma dealt a serious blow to Naples Zoo –botanically, structurally, and financially.
Most of the damage was to our beautiful botanicals, including the destruction of two nearly century-old specimens planted by Dr. Henry Nehrling, who founded the tropical garden in 1919.
“The damage to the zoo’s garden was overwhelming…limbs, branches, leaves, water…everywhere. Just when I thought I had seen the worst damage, I would turn another corner and find more severe damage,” Danielle Green, Director of Gardens and Grounds, said.
“The hardest loss was the last remaining Royal palm planted by Dr. Henry Nehrling – the crown was snapped off and it took us days to locate it. This palm had stood in this garden for nearly 100 years and weathered many storms in the past, but fell victim to Hurricane Irma. I think that is one of the hardest things in these situations –to experience the loss of something in an instant that has stood for decades. I had hoped that this would never happen under my watch.
”The good news for the garden was that the vast majority of trees were strong enough to survive because of regular care by certified arborists and the horticultural staff in the form of nutrition, pest control, and other preventative care like pruning and structural shaping to better withstand wind loads.
For the animals, preparation begins each spring when the hurricane plan is updated for the coming season reflecting the current animals and exhibits. The structures that house animals like the tigers, bears, and primates during storms are concrete block with concrete roofs. In both Irma and Wilma, these buildings suffered no core damage when trees toppled onto them. With the exception of two greater kudu antelope lost to Irma, the animals weathered the storm well.
“Storms can always surprise you no matter how much you prepare,” explained Liz Harmon, Director of Animal Programs. “I’m very proud of our team in carrying out the plan and how quickly they were able to adjust under changing circumstances.
”While the crisis days are fading, the recovery work will continue for months with its ongoing costs – a doubly difficult challenge as the zoo lost over a month of admission and sales revenues required to care for the plants and animals each day.
“We’ve calculated the total costs of the hurricane to be just over $400,000 with the tree, plant and debris removal and fence repair costs representing well more than half of that amount, ”Jack Mulvena, President and CEO, said. “Fortunately we have already raised just about $300,000 to date from so many of our Zoo friends and supporters.
We are profoundly thankful and appreciative of the community’s support to date, but we do still have a ways to go.
”Naples Zoo is an award-winning 501 (c) (3) non-profit, funded entirely by donors, visitors, and members. To support your zoo’s hurricane relief efforts, you can mail a check to the zoo at 1590 Goodlette Rd, Naples FL 34102 or donate online at www.napleszoo.org/give.
Naples Zoo has also created an Amazon wish list, filled with much-needed supplies at www.tiny.cc/zooneeds.“We look forward to seeing our visitors, zoo members and all our friends again,” Mulvena said. “Talking to guests on the pathways, seeing the cruises out on the lake, and just watching our amazing staff and volunteers getting back to what they love doing every day is part of the healing process for all of us.
”The Naples Zoo staff would like to thank everyone who has supported and will support us through our recovery. Every little bit counts. Every dollar is appreciated. Just as every guest is special to us as they help us carry out our mission: “To inspire people of all ages to respect, value and help conserve wildlife and our natural world.”
For more information about your zoo, visit www.napleszoo.org.