Chase O’Brien of San Antonio Zoo assists in the evacuation of animals at The Texas Zoo.
Chase O’Brien of San Antonio Zoo assists in the evacuation of animals at The Texas Zoo. Credit: Courtesy / San Antonio Zoo

The No. 1 reason I love San Antonio is its people. We are welcoming and kind to each other and strangers. We are tolerant of each other, and most importantly we take care of each other.

Last week as Hurricane Harvey took aim at Texas and potentially San Antonio, we all started last-minute planning efforts. After all, it’s not often we have to deal with storms of this size with the potential to reach our city.

At the city’s zoological facilities we activated our emergency action plans for this expected natural disaster. The San Antonio Zoo has a dedicated team that stays overnight at the zoo during natural disasters. This “ride-out team” consists of animal care experts, maintenance staff and security. They leave their homes and often their families to ensure the safety and security of our animals and property. As the storm approached, we started contacting other Texas zoos and aquariums to have constant communication through the life of Harvey. Based on the storm’s initial trajectory, the concern was for the Texas State Aquarium and San Antonio Zoo.

Soon after, the storm moved to the southeast. We knew we had dodged a bullet, but now the Houston area was going to be hit hard. Over the weekend Houston’s Downtown Aquarium sent an SOS that it was flooded and without power. We shifted our rescue/relief efforts to Houston immediately. A San Antonio Zoo board member granted us access to a helicopter and we and SeaWorld airlifted supplies, pumps, extra animal feed, equipment and personnel into the aquarium. Whatever room we had left on our trucks that met the helicopter outside of Katy was filled with humanitarian supplies for first responders.

While this effort was underway we learned The Texas Zoo in Victoria was heavily damaged from the original storm and under threat of flooding from the Guadalupe River was growing. On the night of Aug. 30 the zoo flooded, and staff spent the night on the roof. When we moved in the next morning, we issued a request for boats as the zoo was under several feet of water and secluded on the other side of the Guadalupe River. Our team and Fort Worth Zoo staff went in and began rescuing animals. Other zoos across Texas sent crates, offered temporary homes for the animals and came down to help with clean up and repairs.

Craig Pelke (center) of San Antonio hands off humanitarian supplies to Eagle Lake Sheriff’s Department representatives.
Craig Pelke (center) of San Antonio hands off humanitarian supplies to Eagle Lake Sheriff’s Department representatives. Credit: Courtesy / San Antonio Zoo

As we saw the remarkable rescues and Texans rallying to the cause to help other Texans, we were contacted by our friends at American Humane, the country’s first national humane organization and the world’s largest certifier of animal welfare and wellbeing. They were ready to move into Texas with 150,000 pounds of pet food, medicine and the ability to help with rescues and shelters. However, they were in need of an official invite. San Antonio Zoo contacted the offices of State Sens. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio) and Brandon Creighton (R-Conroe). Shortly after those conversations occurred, an invitation to assist was extended by Montgomery County to help with pet rescue and shelter services.

The world has been in awe of the response by average citizens of Texas. They have brought boats, food, water, monster trucks and anything they could load up and take to Houston. We’ve seen the images of the rescues, the relief on the faces of those saved and how people have cared for their animals. While the rest of the world may be surprised by the efforts Texans taking care of Texans, this comes as second nature as residents of the Lone Star State and especially in San Antonio. Our city and county leaders worked swiftly to open shelters and welcome evacuees to our city. San Antonio Zoo, The Witte Museum, The DoSeum, Alamo Drafthouse, Santikos and others all opened their doors with free admission for evacuees.

Many organizations from around the city and state led evacuee assistance efforts or provided donations to the cause such as H-E-B, USAA, Whataburger, Valero, NuStar Energy, Toyota, CPS Energy, SAWS, police and fire departments and a long list of others. What we witnessed was an outpouring of aid and assistance that proved what it meant to be #TexasStrong and #CompassionateSA.

Our city is known for its hospitality and it is one of the reasons we are a top travel destination in this country. Our people have hearts as big as Texas. It’s been inspiring to see everyone leave today’s politics behind and come together to lend a hand to those in need. We saw the damage and devastation of this storm, but we also saw the best of what people can and should do for each other and for animals. What I saw after the storm was a flood of humanity.

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Tim Morrow

Tim Morrow is the CEO and Executive Director at the San Antonio Zoo.