Hurricanes present unique challenges to the Alligator Farm

By Kayla McManama |

As Hurricanes Matthew and Irma came toward St. Augustine, locals rushed to make preparations for evacuation. While the St. Augustine Alligator Farm had to not only secure the property itself, but make sure the animals would be well cared for.

John Brueggen, the director of the Alligator Farm, has been at the Alligator Farm for 18 years. The park has long been prepared for the storms with its two to three fences surrounding the park, keeping animals from escaping.

“The biggest danger of a crocodile escaping is if a tree falls and knocks down the fence line. Before a hurricane and really all year long, we’re trimming trees, and making sure they’re healthy,” Bruggen said.

The St. Augustine Police Department also allows the staff of the Alligator Farm back on the island before other residents to ensure that all animals are still on the property.

“They will give us a pass before the residents do, just to make sure there isn’t anything wandering around that shouldn’t be,” he said.

When it comes to the animals, the alligators stay in their pools and are left alone.

“Alligators are survivors, and for the most part, alligators can handle the weather without any problem,” Brueggen said.

However, the other exotic animals are moved, mostly into the komodo dragon building, which runs on generator power. The generator provides lights and air conditioning if the animals need it.

“We know we can catch all of our birds and monkeys in about three and half hours. We put them all in sky kennels that you can see a dog in, they come in all different sizes. Everyone who can fit in one of those, goes in one of those and we give them enough food and water for two to three days,” Brueggen said.

The birds that were too big to be inside a crate were kept in the bathroom.

“Some of the birds didn’t fit in crates very well, and they would have been severely stressed. What we did in those cases was put in the bathroom and lock the bathroom door. We knew that the building itself that had the bathroom would be secure, so our bathrooms were filled up during the storm. We had our biggest vultures, crown cranes and storks in there,” he said.

There are some primates, though, that will eat all their food once they get it due to their high metabolism.

“We have to get creative with them and we create these little puzzle boxes for them. They will eat all the food we give them in the bowl and then they have to spend days hunting, and then that gives food to them for the entire time,” he said.

In terms of stress, the staff at the Alligator Farm tried to make the animals as comfortable as possible.

“We do everything we can to make them more comfortable. We give them bedding in the form of wood chips or hay or something that would make them comfortable to stand on for that long. They also get their favorite treats,” Brueggen said

While storms like these don’t usually happen often, Brueggen said the Alligator Farm will again be prepared for next time.

“We’ve had a long history of preparing and dealing with these kinds of storms,” Brueggen said. “The Alligator Farm will turn 125 years old next year, so we’ve seen a lot of storms, seen some wars and some depressions.”

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