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Miami zoo secures animals ahead of ferocious Hurricane Irma

MIAMI (Reuters) - The Miami zoo is taking no chances with Peanut, a critically endangered white-rumped vulture, or with its more common pink flamingos, for that matter.

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With Hurricane Irma a day away from making landfall in Florida, the zoological park evacuated Peanut from his enclosure and placed him in a fortified concrete bunker along with other animals early on Saturday.

Zookeepers scrambled to secure animals and finish testing emergency equipment as weather conditions deteriorated ahead of Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century.

“We are very concerned about the generators working because we have life system supports for pumping for the aquarium and things like that,” said Zoo Miami Communications Director Ron Magill. “If they shut down, the oxygen doesn’t get in the water, and animals will die.”

Irma is expected to make landfall somewhere west of Miami on Sunday as a major hurricane, bringing winds in excess of 100 miles per hour (160 kph) and a storm surge of up to 15 feet (4.6 meters). [nL2N1LQ09U]

The threat of widespread damage and evacuation orders for more than 6 million Floridians has dredged up memories of Hurricane Andrew, which decimated the zoo in 1992.

Large animals such as lions, elephants and apes have not been evacuated, since their enclosures were fortified after Andrew. But the zoo has relocated smaller, more fragile animals, such as the pink flamingos, to concrete bunkers.

Moving wild animals, however, poses its own dangers.

“These animals go through a tremendous amount of stress when you move them away from a familiar area, and that stress could be very, very dangerous to them,” Magill said.

But the risk of moving some animals is necessary to avoid a repeat of Andrew, when the flamingos were found huddled in a bathroom, he added.

“Please, God, don’t let this be another Andrew,” Magill said. “For us, that was the storm of a lifetime, not twice in my lifetime, please.”

Writing by Mary Milliken; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn