Hurricane Ian flamingo photo recalls Andrew zoo picture

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Flamingos were ushered into a restroom at the then-named Metrozoo in Kendall (now Zoo Miami) to protect them from Hurricane Andrew on Aug.  24, 1992.

Flamingos were ushered into a restroom at the then-named Metrozoo in Kendall (now Zoo Miami) to protect them from Hurricane Andrew on Aug. 24, 1992.

Thirty years ago, a flock of Florida flamingos became famous for riding out a monster hurricane in a bathroom.

As Hurricane Ian struck the state’s west coast on Wednesday, another flock found a similar restroom refuge.

At Sunken Gardens, a four-acre historic botanical attraction in St. Petersburg, staff hustled the facility’s flamingos into the public bathroom for protection before the storm, then posted a photo on social media assuring followers the birds were safe.

“We’re hunkered down and hoping for the best for all in hurricane Ian’s path — including all the animals,” said the attraction, which at more than 100 is one of the oldest roadside attractions in the United States. “Our flamingos, tortoises, and other exotic birds are safe and sound with staff on site to monitor them throughout the storm. The flamingos are having quite the hurricane party.”

The Brazilian red-footed tortoises, the post continued, were also on their way to “indoor accommodations.”

The photo caught the eye of many South Floridians, who remember another iconic picture of flamingos, shot by wildlife expert and photographer Ron Magill at Zoo Miami (then called Metrozoo) before the onslaught of Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

Magill, communications director for the Kendall zoo, said “tons of people” forwarded him the Sunken Gardens photo. His response on Twitter: “Good move! Proven life saving move for flamingos!”

“It was uplifting to see,” he says. “I have a philosophy of ‘if it’s not broken, don’t fix it.’ “

The Zoo Miami birds have their own private space for evacuation now — a luxury smaller zoos don’t always have — but before Andrew, the women’s restrooms were the go-to safe space.

“It was trial and error at that time,” says Magill, who is also an Emmy-winning TV and radio star. “Moving those flamingos to the bathroom at the zoo saved their lives. There’s no better bunker than a public restroom. The tile floor is easy to clean. You can put water in there. It’s dark and safe. It’s a very innovative way to protect invaluable animals.”

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Ron Magill feeds Malcome, a reticulated giraffe, at Zoo Miami in Kendall. Al Diaz adiaz@miamiherald.com

Five animals died in Andrew, and more than 5,000 trees fell. The Wings of Asia Aviary, designed to withstand winds of 120 mph, was destroyed. The flamingos survived, and this year, on Andrew’s 30th anniversary on Aug. 24, Magill posted on his Facebook page that eight of them were still alive.

The Zoo Miami photo has become iconic, not just in Miami but all over the world. Magill still gets requests for it and runs across it in unexpected places.

“Once I was in a restaurant in South Beach, and I’m standing at the urinal and look up, and there’s that picture on the wall.”

Sunken Gardens is closed in the wake of Hurricane Ian, but Tampa Bay was spared the worst of the hurricane, which struck the barrier island of Cayo Costa near Sanibel and Captiva.

This story was originally published September 29, 2022 10:23 AM.

Connie Ogle loves wine, books and the Miami Heat. Please don’t make her eat a mango.

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