DADE CITY — Kathy Stearns was tending to the leopards Sunday night when a crashing sound tore through her zoo.
Heavy rains last week had saturated the soil at Dade City's Wild Things, a 22-acre nonprofit zoo that offers tours and animal encounters, enough to give up the roots of an old oak tree. The behemoth tree gradually tipped, bringing four other trees with it on top of two tiger and panther cages and a concession stand, flattening a drink cooler.
Stearns, the zoo's director, ran over to survey the damage. Sasha, the panther, and Roy, the tiger, managed to escape the heavy limbs that landed on their enclosures.
Zoo workers quickly corralled them to still-standing parts of their cages and had to seal off the back half of Sasha's habitat. Stearns said both animals still have a comfortable amount of room.
Now zoo workers are clearing the area before they can begin repairs. Stearns said the zoo tried to bring in a crane to help lift out heavy logs, but the soil is still too wet for the machinery. She isn't sure how much the repairs will cost or when the zoo will be back to normal.
"We're still trying to clean everything up enough to where we can get in there and get a good look at everything," she said Tuesday.
The zoo is planning a yard sale of donated items on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. to raise money for repairs. The zoo is still open, but tours are being diverted around the damaged area.
Contact Alex Orlando at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.