DADE CITY — Strong winds ripped through Dade City's Wild Things on Sunday afternoon, knocking over trees and damaging several cages, including that of former Mystery Monkey Cornelius.
None of the animals was hurt, though the storm toppled several large oak trees, one of them crushing the cage of a Florida panther named Mariah. And in case zoo officials didn't have their hands full, a Siberian tiger named Nakita went into labor as the winds kicked up about 2 p.m., delivering two cubs under the covered roof of her outdoor habitat.
"We figured of all the times, it's going to be during the storm," said Wild Things president Randy Stearns, chuckling.
The two cubs are doing fine, Stearns said. The cubs, who haven't been named, appear to be male (it can take time for the features to become obvious, Stearns said).
In the meantime, workers moved the other animals to safety. It took several hours to get Mariah the panther into her lockdown area, a section of the cage designed for animals during emergency situations.
"She was so terrified," zoo director Kathy Stearns said.
Cornelius' cage also sustained damage. The roof was pushed down. The macaque, who was moved into the zoo in December, was also placed into his lockdown area.
"He's doing okay," Kathy Stearns said. "He was not happy, you could tell."
Several other cages were damaged, including those of an iguana and several birds.
Zoo employees and volunteers spent Monday picking up debris. They repaired Cornelius' cage and pulled the tree off Mariah's enclosure, though it still needs to be rebuilt, Randy Stearns said.
"We made a lot of progress," he said, adding that they expect to open today for tours.
National Weather Service meteorologist Robert Garcia said gusts of about 60 mph were reported in a 6-mile area near Dade City on Sunday afternoon. "It definitely looks like it was severe," he said.
Anyone interested in donating to Dade City's Wild Things may call Stearns at (813) 714-2555, or email the facility at [email protected]cityswildthings.com.
Times staff writer Bridget Hall Grumet contributed to this report. Laura C. Morel can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3386.