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Oatland shelters in place, but not its big cats

Animal caretakers at Oatland Island Wildlife Center had to make a difficult choice as Hurricane Irma approached: Stay or go with its collection of animals, many of them native to coastal Georgia.

Last year, Oatland, which is owned and operated by the Savannah Chatham County Public School System, evacuated more than 60 of its animals to Fort Valley State University near Macon as Matthew approached. Preparations began to do the same this year, said Veterinarian Lesley Mailler, but then the storm turned.

“The westward shift of the hurricane put it directly over where we were evacuating to,” she said.

The facility quickly adapted its plans. Oatland’s big cat, a cougar named Shanti, was evacuated to Zoo Atlanta along with bobcats Teal, Bo and Odie.

These animals couldn’t stay at Oatland because a tropical storm could damage their enclosures and allow these dangerous animals to escape. That wouldn’t be good for the cougar or the neighbors.

Mailler anesthetized Shanti in preparation for his move. At the same time she gave him his yearly vaccinations. Oatland’s other creatures, including farm animals and deer, bison and birds of prey, are hunkering down in place.

“We are sheltering with the rest of the animals in place at Oatland,” Mailler said.

Irma was a lot more threatening to the Tybee Island Marine Science Center, located just steps away from the beach on Tybee. Its collection of aquatic animals was released to the wild last week, ahead of the storm. The center’s one-year-old loggerhead sea turtle, Ike, which was scheduled to be released later this month, instead got an early trip back to the Atlantic. Animals that couldn’t be released, such as the center’s reptiles, evacuated with staffers.

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