This week at Dartmoor Zoo we have not escaped the heavy snowfall, icy roads and freezing conditions that have plagued the country. On Wednesday morning the treacherous driving conditions meant that many staff were unable to even get to the zoo. Hundreds of schools and offices in Devon have been shut for the last few days, but when animals are involved, life must go on as normal. They of course still need to be fed, watered, cleaned out and cared for, the same as every other day. Most of the keeping staff have made it in every day so far to do just this. Zoo keeping is hard work at the best of times, but this week that has been an understatement!
Water bowls have been freezing so hard that in some cases, keepers have been able to stand on them. As soon as we have broken the ice in every water bowl, they start to freeze up again. Although some of our animals, like the tigers and lynx are well adapted to these wintry conditions, many are not. For these species we have been providing extra large straw beds and heat lamps. Some, like the tapir, are being kept in overnight as well.
The biggest and least desired job every morning at the moment is breaking the ice on the Tiger Rock and Jaguar moats. In case you don't know, the moats are used instead of fencing on one side of each enclosure. Every day the ice gets thicker so we need to break it up first thing before we let the cats out. Normally the cats are out 24/7, but obviously this is not the best idea in these circumstances!
The keepers' favourite weapon is a long metal pole with a large bar on the end. It is very heavy and you can always tell who's done the cat round because they are collapsed over the table at break time!
Today is the first time since Tuesday that the van has been able to get to the main road (via the fallow field)! The drive is too slippery for any cars, which is one of the reasons why we are presently closed. As you can see from the video, it did need some help from the dumper on the way back, but we were running quite low on fruit and vegetables for our animals and so it was important to make the journey. The weather forecast for the weekend is more snow so we felt we had to take the opportunity to get some supplies in. Please telephone the zoo before you visit, to make sure we are open.