MONSOON: Zookeepers keeping an eye to the sky, to protect animals from storms

- When a Monsoon storm hits, many people would try to take cover. Animals, however, are a different story.

Zookeepers at the Phoenix Zoo are always keeping an eye on the sky, and keeping track of the forecast, in an effort to protect their animals from the rain, wind, and dust.

It's a daily routine for keepers at the Phoenix Zoo, as they make radio calls to the Ranger Station, which gives them a look ahead at what the weather will bring.Corinne santella-hoof stock keeper:

"Zookeepers are obsessed with the weather," said Corinne Santella, a hoofstock keeper. "We are checking it hourly if not more, because anything can change at  any moment."

When alerts do pop up - sometimes unexpectedly, especially during the monsoon season - The Zoo's rangers are ready to respond.

"When we have an active weather system happening, we will be monitoring that on the hour, and then we will relay any specific details to all zoo staff, including the keepers," said Martin Pinski, the Assistant Chief Park Ranger. He said specific protocol is followed, to ensure guests and animals stay safe.

"Lightning is checked regularly," said Pinski. "We're looking at lighting within ten miles primarily, and if it's headed our direction again, we are going to notify the animal keepers."

Senior Carnivore Keeper Shawna Farrington worries most about high winds.

"High winds would actually cause these branches that we have in all of our wonderful exhibits at the Phoenix Zoo to break, and possibly land on an animal," said Farrington.

During severe weather, the lions and so many other animals are ushered inside.

"Every night, when we have weather protocols in place or inclement weather protocols in place, every carnivore keeper actually calls a ranger and lets them know this animal is accessed, this animal is locked in, so they have a list of animals if a monsoon should come in, they know which exhibits to check first," said Farrington.

Standing an average of 14 to 18 feet tall, Giraffes are known as the "Watch Towers of the Savanna".
Their long necks allow them to serve as a look out, but also put them in danger when wind speeds pick up.
Hoof and stock keepers said lighting is also a concern, as a giraffe's height also makes them a natural lightning rod.

There are also concerns over Monsoon downpours.

"We have a lot of pretty grass out here, our Horticulture Department does really well keeping up with all the maintenance on it. So, when it rains a lot, it just becomes a swamp, and it gets really muddy, and since we're on hills - I slip all the time, so I can imagine animals will as well," said Santella. 

A good example of just how wild the weather can get at the Phoenix Zoo is a storm in Summer 2015 that knocked over about 70 to 80 giant trees.

"That storm was definitely the biggest storm that we have experienced here," said Scott Frische, the Curator of Horticulture. He said the Zoo was closed for three days after that storm.

"We gotta get people out of bed, and down here as quickly as possible," said Steven Sharp, the Collection Manager over Reptiles. He usually gets a call during storms. If a storm knocked power out, the Zoo's stingray, for example, are put in immediate danger.

"As soon as that power is cut off, all of those systems shut down and dissolve the oxygen in the water," said Sharp. "What they're actually breathing, we call that DO. That DO starts to drop very quickly, so as they use that usable DO that is still in the water, it's gone out of the system and it's not being replaced. So we need that electrical system to be on and operating to power all the life support system that they need to survive."

A giant generator was installed last December.

"The generator is completely automated, and so we don't have to do anything other than add gas to it," said Sharp.

Monkey Village closes at noon because of the extreme summer heat, but the Senior Keeper of Primates Amy Dietz still keeps a close eye on the wind.

"They'll usually start bedding themselves down inside if they can tell that its coming," said Dietz. "But on occasion, we do get storms that we are not expecting and hit really hard really fast overnight, and those are the things that I worry about when I am home."

"We're definitely in a heightened state of awareness when we go through monsoon season," said Pinski.

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