The Holiday Lights display is taking off a year, but by early 2018 the park is expected to be fully operational — with a few improvements.
The post-Hurricane Irma damage assessment at Sarasota Jungle Gardens was dramatic.
“It looked like a bomb went off,” said the park’s marketing manager Tim Cincotta. “I think we sustained more damage here than I saw in all of Sarasota.”
Sarasota Jungle Gardens has been around since 1939 — that’s 78 years of bringing residents and visitors a little closer to nature. But in all those years, it’s never sustained damage like what Irma brought. The damage was bad enough to keep the park closed for five weeks and cancel what would have been the park’s 16th annual Holiday Lights display.
Cincotta attributes this to the number of tall trees in the park. When some of them fell in Irma’s winds, they damaged electrical wires and plumbing systems; they ruined pavers on walkways; they pulled down other trees and there was debris everywhere.
Cincotta declined to give an estimate for the cost of the damage.
The approximately 200 animals that live at Jungle Gardens were kept safe.
They were moved indoors in the three days leading up to Irma’s arrival.
“They took all the flamingos out of the park and put them inside the [educational building],” Cincotta said. “Alligators went into restrooms.”
Jungle Gardens remained closed to the public after Irma passed, as workers cleaned up debris and repaired damage.
When it finally reopened on Oct. 7, it wasn’t without a few changes.
Most of the main exhibits are open, but the trails near the back of the park remain closed as workers continue to remove debris.
And of course, the 2017 Holiday Lights display was canceled. The annual event has become a tradition for many families, who visit the park when lights are strung on trees and along pathways. Cincotta described the event, which included Santa, a DJ and magicians, as “festive.”
“We have heard from some of our guests that they’re disappointed because it’s an annual family tradition,” Cincotta said. “We’re sorry we’re not able to accommodate them this year.”
However, the Jungle Gardens will likely be fully operational after the first of the year, with a few new additions, such as a porcupine exhibit and improvements to the alligator show pool.
For now, Cincotta said the important thing to know is that the Jungle Gardens is open for business. Families can still hand-feed flamingos, touch alligators and hold parrots.
“You can still have a wonderful time,” he said.