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Phoenix Zoo works to keep animals safe during monsoon storms

(Twitter Photo/@PhoenixZoo)

PHOENIX — Four-year-old Lilly Strippelhoff said giraffes are among her favorite animals at the Phoenix Zoo.

“I also like zebras because they have stripes,” she said, adding monkeys and tigers are also among her favorite.

Keeping those and other animals safe at the Phoenix Zoo when a monsoon storm rolls in is a top priority.

Martin Pinski, assistant chief park ranger, said zookeepers do several drills every year to prepare them for severe weather. They also monitor the weather and send out daily reports to their staff.

“When we know there’s an active storm coming, we’ll ramp that up to either hourly or even every 30 minutes,” he said.

When a storm is at least 20 miles away, zookeepers will start preparing to bring animals inside. Pinski said a big focus is usually on giraffes “because they are a natural lightning rod.”

Devorah Young, a senior hoofstock keeper at the Phoenix Zoo, agreed giraffes are usually a target for lightning because of their long necks. But a monsoon storm can also create “a very big slip hazard” for giraffes.

“If we get a huge influx of rain and it gets really wet, because they’re so big, they can slip and hurt themselves,” she said.

To keep giraffes safe during a monsoon storm, zookeepers take them into their night houses, which are 20-foot-tall barns with food and toys inside. How long they’re in there depends on how long the monsoon storm lasts and the damage left behind.

“It’s pretty enclosed,” Young said about the barns. “So if we do have a bad storm, they don’t really hear a whole lot. And we don’t have dust blowing into them.”

Other animals also have their own indoor facilities where zoo keepers take them for cover during a monsoon storm.

Carl Mohler, a carnivore keeper at the Phoenix Zoo, said there are special monsoon storm protocols for lions, tigers, jaguars, bears and other carnivores.

“If there’s a 30 percent chance of rain and or 30 mile per hour winds, we’re required to lock our animals in their indoor spaces,” he said. “The reason for that is primarily for safety.”

Mohler said there are many large trees surrounding the habitats for these animals. And if one tree gets knocked down due to excessive rain or wind, that could create a bride for the animals to leave their habitats, especially bears.

“Our bears are very good at climbing, and they could easily escape,” he said.

If a monsoon storm hits after the Phoenix Zoo closes, staff will be there to check on the animals and their habitats.

Monsoon storms have caused damage to the Phoenix Zoo only a handful of times over the last few decades, but no animals have ever been hurt.

Last year, the zoo had to close because of flooding, knocked down trees and damage caused to chairs and tables.

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