Environment
12:00 pm
Wed July 4, 2012

What Do Zoo Animals Do During Air Quality Alerts?

There’s another Air Quality Alert in effect for today, and ozone levels are expected to be high. But those warnings go out to the human inhabitants of Louisville. How do the high ozone levels affect the exotic animals at the Louisville Zoo?

Zoo curator Steve Wing says one of the species that would be most sensitive to the high ozone levels are the zoo’s penguins.

The penguin exhibit is in the midst of a renovation, and the penguins are being fed in a small room upstairs. But Wing says wherever the penguins live, their air is closely controlled.

“The air quality really doesn’t affect them because we already have in place filters and different procedures and protocols to protect those animals from ozone, and a lot of different contaminants that they might be susceptible to here,” he said.

All the zoo’s animals have choices when the temperatures and ozone levels climb. Wing says the outdoor animals have access to shelters, where they can go if they’re bothered by the heat and pollution.

“It’s kind of a holistic approach,” he said. “Because generally when we have the air quality alerts, we also have high temperatures. We might have extremely dry conditions, which dry air can affect people and animals, as well.”

Over in the Zoo’s Glacier Run, the zoo’s famous polar bear Qannik slowly settles into a tub of water, and it overflows. Qannik is 18 months old, weighs about 300 pounds. She doesn’t seem to be bothered by the ozone...she just wants to cool off, and Wing says there’s ample water in most exhibits to help the animals stay comfortable in the heat.

But he notes that there have been few studies on how air pollution affects animals. And even if the pollution does cause health problems, the zoo’s veterinarians may never notice, because animals have a tendency to hide illnesses that could make them vulnerable to predators.