UPDATE Monday, Sept. 25, 2017:
A volunteer crew from Zoo Knoxville is on its way to Florida and the Center For Great Apes to help with clean-up after Hurricane Irma.
The Zoo posted to Twitter Monday before their crew hit the road.
ORIGINAL STORY Friday, Sept. 22, 2017:
Some Zoo Knoxville staff members are heading to Florida on Monday to help a private ape sanctuary hit hard by Hurricane Irma.
Ten people will drive down and then spend a couple days helping to pick up storm debris and clean up the Center for Great Apes in rural Wauchula, Fla., southeast of the Tampa-St. Petersburg area, said Kelly Cox, assistant director of animal care and conservation for the zoo.
They're expecting hard, hot, hands-on work, said Cox. But they're happy to do it because they heard the center was in need.
Diane Beatty, the private sanctuary's donor relations manager, said high winds from tornadoes spawned by the giant hurricane brought down many limbs and trees.
"The (hurricane) eye went right over us," Beatty told 10News on Thursday.
The center, about 20 years old, was without power and couldn't pump water from its wells about a week, although they were able to provide care for the animals by using generators and bottled water.
The center now cares for 21 orangutans and 26 chimpanzees.
"We were fortunate that all the staff were safe and all the apes were safe," Beatty said.
The Center for Great Apes has a membership to help meet expenses and it also relies on volunteers to help with operations.
One area where Zoo Knoxville members can certainly help is with repairing a memorial garden for the apes who have died over the years, according to Beatty. It suffered a lot of storm damage from Irma, she said.
"That area's really a mess," she said.
Cox said Zoo Knoxville felt it had an affinity with the Center for Great Apes because both care for and house apes. They'll be taking chainsaws and other tools to Wauchula.
"We wanted to be as available as we could to help out," Cox said.