Zoo Miami has decided to leave in place a massive ficus tree that was downed when Hurricane Irma "remodeled" the hyena exhibit.
Ron Magill, Zoo Miami's communications director, on Friday said the zoo hopes the fallen tree will grant additional enrichment for the animals, while also providing comfortable shade.
"Because of its massive size and the probability that even if we were to stand it up again, it would fall in another strong storm, the decision was made to trim the top and leave it on the exhibit as a new piece of 'furniture' for the hyenas," Magill wrote in a Facebook post. "The fallen tree serves as a strong visual reminder of the power of hurricanes and as a historical landmark recognizing Zoo Miami surviving Hurricane Irma."
Hurricane Irma left a legacy of destruction in South Florida. The zoo plans to install signs in front of the exhibit with pictures, as well as educational signs about the history of the tree and the zoo's experience with hurricanes Andrew, Katrina, Wilma and Irma to enlighten future visitors.
Magill said Zoo Miami is also looking forward to the possibility that the tree will sprout new branches that will grow at a 90-degree angle to fallen ones, as some roots remain underground, which could create an "even more interesting tree."
"Today was the first day that the hyenas were given access to their exhibit since it was 'remodeled' by the hurricane and I was fortunate enough to be there to capture their first reactions to the 'different' structure," Magill wrote. "Though they were initially very apprehensive to get close to the fallen tree, the male eventually became curious and started to explore. The female preferred to stay in the pool!"
Zoo Miami reopens Oct. 14, and admissions are 50 percent off for that weekend. The first 1,000 guests each day will receive Zoo Miami sunglasses.