December 5, 2021

No, animals did not escape from a New Jersey zoo during the Ida storm

Despite some social media claims, no animals escaped from a New Jersey zoo as the Ida storm system drenched the Northeast.

Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana on Aug. 29 as a devastating Category 4 storm with winds up to 150 mph. The hurricane knocked out power in some areas and caused widespread destruction.

The remnants of the Ida storm system reached the Northeast on Sept. 1, dropping significant rainfall that led to flooding across the region. It even caused New York City’s first-ever “flash flood emergency.”

During the storm, people on social media said animals from Turtle Back Zoo in New Jersey had escaped and were floating in the floodwaters.

THE QUESTION

Did animals escape from a New Jersey zoo during the Ida storm?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

No, animals did not escape from a New Jersey zoo during the Ida storm.

WHAT WE FOUND

On Sept. 2, the Turtle Back Zoo tweeted a statement, saying no zoo animals escaped during the storm.

“We appreciate everyone’s concern about our animals and staff during the storm,” the zoo said. “Staff stayed through the night to monitor. There was no loss of power and all of our animals and animal areas weathered the storm well and remain safe and secure within the facility.”

Turtle Back Zoo is located in West Orange, New Jersey. It’s a facility of the Essex County Parks Department. Essex County executive director Joseph DiVincenzo, Jr. released a statement on Sept. 2 also denying that animals escaped from the zoo.

“The social media message stating that animals have left Essex County Turtle Back Zoo is unequivocally false,” DiVincenzo said. “Turtle Back is an accredited facility that takes the care and welfare of our animals very seriously. In advance of Hurricane Ida, our animal care team secured all the animals indoors and staff remained on grounds to monitor the situation. There was no loss of power, and all of our animals and animal areas weathered the storm well and remain safe and secure within the facility.”

The Turtle Back Zoo is accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA). As part of the AZA’s accreditation process, live-action emergency drills must be conducted at least once a year for four types of emergencies:

  • Fire
  • Weather or another environmental emergency appropriate to the region
  • Injury to a visitor or paid/unpaid staff
  • Animal escape

“Since there is no ‘one size fits all’ plan, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums guidance to our members stresses the importance of the planning process, such as undertaking a thorough risk assessment, more than the specifics of the plan itself,” the AZA told VERIFY. “In many cases, the plans focus on evacuation, but evacuation may not always be possible or even the best option. In those cases, facilities often have ‘ride-out’ teams that stay on grounds for animal care during an event.”

Tina Cloutier Barbour, a primate specialist, said if animals were exposed to flooding, they, like humans, would seek higher and dry ground to survive.

“They might be able to swim, but if they’re not built for an aquatic lifestyle, it’s only something that’s going to be, you know, viable for so long,” she said. “And then, unfortunately, they’re going to lose the battle.”

Cloutier Barbour noted that great apes have an especially hard time with water.

One of the tweets that spread the rumor that animals escaped from Turtle Back Zoo referred to a gorilla potentially being on the loose. The zoo has a list of animals on its website and gorillas are not included. 

Despite the claims on social media, no animals escaped from the Turtle Back Zoo in New Jersey during the flooding caused by the Ida storm.

More from VERIFY: Yes, Hurricane Ida temporarily reversed the flow of part of the Mississippi River

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