Dade City, Florida -- In East Pasco County, the home of the Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay and a rare Florida panther got hit hard by Sunday's storms.
The staff at Dade City's Wild Things is asking for help from companies that do tree removal and fence building as they repair serious damage to their zoo.
Storms don't get much scarier -- and calls don't get much closer -- than they did here Sunday.
"It pretty much came out of nowhere," said Randy Stearns, the head trainer at the zoo. "We noticed the wind actually started going sideways. It started hailing."
When the worst had passed, Stearns raced to the enclosure housing Mariah, one of around only 100 Florida panthers left in the world. Eighty feet of towering tree had torn apart her home.
Mariah survived and could have even escaped through the opening left in her chain link enclosure. But Stearns says she likely didn't even consider making a break for it.
"It's just like you. If you're in your house, and a storm blows out the window, you're not going to run out of your house. You're going to stay where you feel secure," Stearns said.
"And a tiger, a cougar, or a monkey's going to do the same thing."
A raccoon-sized coatimundi still looks unnerved a day later, after a zoo worker pulled him from his habitat that had been crushed from eight feet tall, down to two or three feet.
Judging by the amount and size of debris scattered all across the animal park, along with smashed animal habitats, Stearns says the damage is worse than even 2004, when four hurricanes came through Florida.
Zoo staff has estimated the cost to fix it all will be around $30,000.
The next creature to see crews cutting, hauling, and cleaning will be Cornelius, the Mystery Monkey of Tampa Bay. A giant limb damaged his enclosure, knocking its roof off of its supports.
An expert in hiding after years on the loose around Tampa Bay, Cornelius is now holed up in his wooden house, out of view.
"You can imagine, if a tree fell on top of your house, you'd be a little spooked, too," Stearns said.
When the Mystery Monkey arrived at Dade City's Wild Things a few months ago -- because of his clever reputation and concerns he may escape -- he moved into an extra-sturdy, specially-designed enclosure. That may have saved his life.
"The wire on the Mystery Monkey [enclosure] is the same wire we use for our tigers or our lions," Stearns said. "That's another reason why there wasn't as much damage."
Despite the debris and damage in every direction, none of the zoo's 300 animals escaped or were hurt.
If you'd like to contribute to the cleanup efforts or volunteer your services, contact the zoo staff through the Dade City's Wild Things website.
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