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Caring for primates in inclement weather

While we prep for inclement weather at our homes, we also do so at the Zoo. As animal care professionals, one of our number one goals is to keep all the animals under our care safe. Zoo Atlanta has protocols in place for severe weather, whether that be snow (yes, it sometimes snows here in the ATL) ice (I’m sure no one will ever forget Snowpocalypse) and our first-ever tropical storm.

Leading up to the week that Irma visited us, the entire Zoo prepped for extreme wind conditions. While part of our days that week was the daily care of our primate population, another large part was prepping for the storm. Just like at home, I’m sure many of you brought in any projectile items. At the Zoo we did the same. We brought in trash cans, tents, tables, pallets, spools of rope, relocated ladders, fans and misters, to name a few. Pretty much if we thought it would damage a habitat or injure someone, we secured it down or brought it into a building.

The day before the storm hit, we wanted to make sure all the animals under our care were in a building. This is the time of the year when many of the Zoo animals have access to their habitats overnight. In order to make sure everyone would ride out the storm in a safe area, the tamarins were brought inside into the indoor tamarin areas inside the orangutan building. This involved having the tamarins enter a small crate for easy transport. As well as moving the tamarins indoors until the storm passed, we also had to move our three sloths (who are not primates, but who are under the care of our department) indoors too. As one could imagine, getting a sloth to move isn’t the quickest thing to do. Working with the sloths you have to have a lot of patience. Caregivers start out by getting the sloths up and moving, usually with food, and encourage them down to shift through a door into their indoor space. This all moves at a sloth pace ……sloooooowwwww. Along the way, we reinforce the sloth for moving to the location where we want him or her to move. With some time and patience, the sloths were secured into their indoor area to ride out the storm.

Once the storm was over, our work wasn’t done yet. Afterwards, we needed to make sure all habitats were intact and secure. It is important to make sure no tree limbs have fallen into or onto any of the habitats. Safety again is a top priority for the animals as well as for the staff. On a daily basis, the gorilla care team has to go through their habitats and remove any sticks that may have fallen from the trees from the night before. After the storm, keepers brought out 30 bags of debris and several piles of limbs that had fallen. It was a ton!

Over those few days it showed how adaptable an animal care professional needs to be in order to help the animals in our care, as well as highlighted how this process is dependent on a great team of people. I am very proud of all the hard work that was put into those days. Here’s hoping we won’t have any inclement weather anytime soon, but if we do, remember that there is a great team making sure all the animals are safe!
Patti Frazier
Senior Keeper, Primates

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