Peter is an independent international zoo consultant, critic and writer with over 50 years of work within zoos.
53C in the Zoo
During the 1970's I was Curator of Al Ain Zoo and Aquarium in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. This was my 7th zoo and my 4th as Curator.
Amongst my duties was to record daily shade temperatures within the zoo. The summers were always hot and temperatures of 45C were almost the norm at noon. But the temperatures did get higher. I knew that as soon as the fluid on my eyes evaporated that we had reached 49C. This required me having to blink more. We could have runs of a week at 49C sometimes.
So how did the animals fare in such temperatures? Well if left to their own devices with plenty of shade and water they appeared to take it in their stride. The keepers found it more difficult but I don't recollect a single one shirking from their duties.
On one day however the temperature reached 53C. That was exceptional but it was run of three days. It put considerable pressure on the electricity supply preventing the use of air conditioning, fridges and freezers. Happily we had a back up generator but unfortunately the supply did not reach all areas.
Each summer we see zoos around the world hosing down their animals or presenting ice lolly treats. For us in Al Ain at 53C ice became essential. This was in the main for Asian primates. We placed blocks of ice in Plastic water bowls in shady spots within the enclosures. The animals sat and literally hung over the bowls, The enclosures were sprayed to increase humidity. We could not freeze ice fast enough as the freezers could not keep up with demand. We lost three primates to heat stroke. These were sad days.
As Climate Change Arrives
As Climate Change is here and likely to be with us from now on then zoos around the world are going to have to put on their thinking caps and give each species held some thought. Animals are hugely adaptable but sometimes they need help.
Not everyone can adapt. I was brought up in Kuwait and my first work in 1967 was on oil rigs in the desert and on sea rigs off the coast of Abu Dhabi. Later in 67 I started in zoos which suited me a lot better. In a way then I am used to the heat but as I have grown older I am much less able to cope. Give some thought to your elderly and young zoo visitors.