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October 27, 2023

In 1992, the Miami Zoo Put Dozens of Flamingos in the Bathroom to Protect Them From Hurricane Andrew

With a Category 5 ranking, Hurricane Andrew was a powerful and destructive storm that struck the Bahamas, Florida, and Louisiana in August 1992. At the time, the National Weather Service estimated the storm had caused $26.5 billion in damages, making it the most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history. Total damages would later be surpassed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 at $81 billion.

Ron Magill, Zoo Miami goodwill ambassador and communications director, took these photographs on Aug. 23, 1992. Magill said he believed there were a total of 38 flamingos in the Zoo Miami (then Miami Metrozoo) flock at the time, and they would have all been put in the restroom together.

“This was part of a hurricane protocol that required us to round up all of the flamingos in the front lake of the zoo and place them in the ladies public restroom, which was used as a bunker, whenever a hurricane warning was issued,” said Magill.

The bathroom was the obvious choice—no windows, a tile floor for easy cleanup, and plenty of room for an improvised bed, made out of hay hastily dumped all over the floor. Most importantly, “it had a ready-made supply of fresh water.” Magill and his coworkers opened up all the stalls, made sure the toilets were full, and set out for the flamingo exhibit to grab the new tenants.

The birds were not very cooperative. “These flamingos are flapping everywhere, we’re grabbing them, we’re getting full of flamingo water and stuff,” said Magill. “It got to the point, I’ve got to be honest—I thought, ‘After all this work, this storm better freaking come!’ That’s a cocky young attitude that you have.”

But the team managed the job, and as they left the bathroom, Magill turned back for a moment to appreciate their work. He had always been a photography buff, and liked to carry a point-and-shoot wherever he went, even to emergency zoo batten-downs.

“After catching the flamingos and putting the last ones into the bathroom for the evening, I was struck by how strange it looked to see the birds huddled together in the ladies bathroom so I took out a point-and-shoot camera and took a couple of frames. Little did I know at the time how destructive and historic that storm would be or how much exposure that image would get afterwards!”


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