The news reports that have been following the destructive path of Hurricane Irma as it crossed the Caribbean and then moved up Florida necessarily focused on the human toll taken by the massive storm, but what about the wildlife that could not escape? There were manatees, flamingoes, dolphins and even lemurs and their survival are part of the story of wildlife in the path of Hurricane Irma. (photo – CNN)
The Caribbean and Necker Island’s Lemurs
The islands of Barbuda, St. Martin and the Virgin Islands were hit with Cat. 5 winds of up to 180 miles an hour and without shelter wildlife especially birds would be particularly vulnerable.
Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands is a paradise, privately owned by Richard Branson and it was directly in the path of Irma.
During the storm Branson and his staff took refuge in his underground wine cellar while his home was being destroyed.
While Branson and his staff emerged unharmed they were concerned about the island’s extensive wildlife. You see Necker is home to an extensive menagerie of exotic animals including flamingoes and lemurs, that’s right lemurs.
The wine cellar was converted into an animal hospital and although some did not make it Branson reports that 250 flamingoes and 60 lemurs are doing fine. Branson and Virginunite, is now focusing on relief efforts throughout the British Virgin Islands.
Florida, manatees stranded by storm surge
Stories have come in across the state of Florida about efforts to protect or rescue wildlife in the path of Hurricane Irma. A natural phenomenon, known as a negative storm surge, occurs when the winds of a hurricane are so strong they create low pressure that literally sucks water into its core leaving shallow coastal areas dry. Once the eye of the storm has passed winds then drive the sea back onto land causing the storm surges that have resulted in so much destructive flooding.
This is exactly what happened in a bay near Sarasota, Florida when waters receded stranding two manatees on the beach. When discovered good Samaritans quickly stepped in to save them.
Key West and Ernest Hemingway’s cats
The world famous community of Key West narrowly escaped a direct hit from Irma, but was still heavily damaged. What happened to Ernest Hemingways’s home and museum and cats?
According to animals 24-7 the Hemingway cats and the museum’s director rode out the storm together. You see there are 54 felines, all descended from Hemingway’s cats, especially his beloved, six-toed Snowflake.
The house, built in 1851 and its 18” thick limestone walls were constructed to take on hurricanes, so the director made a good call and all is well. (collage – Beth Clifton)
NBC comes to the rescue of Dolphins, twice!
Kerry Sanders an NBC correspondent reporting on Hurricane Irma from Marco Island, Florida had to put down his microphone to help a baby dolphin that had been washed ashore. Wading into the waves Sanders and a second person returned the baby dolphin to the sea. Moments later they discovered a second and much larger stranded dolphin. With the help of volunteers they helped the second dolphin, which Sanders thinks was the mother dolphin back into the sea.
Flamingoes under shelter
Flamingoes found shelter at Bush Gardens while an alligator fended for himself, as reported in this story from news9.
The 1935 Labor Day Hurricane
Irma has been called the largest hurricane in history but even with the destruction she heaped on the Florida keys, the toll on human life was thankfully minimal. That was not the case in 1935 when another Category 5 hurricane hit the Upper Keys wiping out more than 70% of its residents.
As reported by Ken Kaye of the Florida Sun Sentinel, “The infamous 1935 Labor Day hurricane ‘produced a storm surge of 18 to 20 feet above sea level, knocking down trees and buildings on Matecumbe, Islamorada and other nearby Keys.”
The hurricane hit while Highway 1 was under construction “Among those who perished were 259 World War I veterans, who had been building the Overseas Highway and were living in federal rehabilitation camps,” Kaye added.
The Fate of the Beloved Key Deer?
We have heard reports on the hardy individuals that stayed in the Florida Keys to ride out Irma, but what about those that had no choice but to stay?
“I am really worried about the plight of the tiny Key deer who live on Big Pine Key in Florida and a few other Keys. I have visited them. They are so beautiful and could get wiped out by Irma. They are an endangered species. Posted Shirley McGreal the founder of the International Primate Protection League just before Irma hit. (photo – USFWS)
“The small deer, whose estimated numbers range from 800 to 1,000, live mostly on Big Pine Key and Little Torch Key,” wrote Goodhue of the Keys Reporter.
Breaking News: Fortunately, an update just received within the last hour, (10am 9/13) states that even though a refuge for the species on Big Pine Key took a direct hit from Hurricane Irma at least some have survived and been spotted.
Jeffrey Fleming, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service spokesperson, told The Scientist “the deer have proven to be resilient through natural disasters in the past.” “They are pretty good at protecting themselves. They have been on those Keys going back to the Wisconsin Ice Age, so they know what to do.”
by Bob Frerck, Blue Ocean Network
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