Hot weather conditions hurt zoo figures

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As Canberra sweltered through hot weather last week, the animals at the National Zoo & Aquarium indulged in some cool treats to help beat the heat.

The Bolivian squirrel monkeys, Oriental small-clawed otter, Little Penguin and Sun Bears all shared in a frosty treat thanks to ice donated by FishCo Fish Market, Fyshwick.

Senior keeper Siobhan Block said ice is just one way to help keep the animals cool during days of extreme temperature.

“We do monitor the animals more closely over the more extreme temperatures,” she said. “We do have several methods to keep our animals cool throughout the day. Depending on the species, it could be a misting system to cool the ambient temperature around the enclosure, it could be extra pools, water bowls, providing flavoured treats as well – like flavoured water – or ice blocks.”

In addition to the hot weather, Canberra has also been subject to smoke haze. Zoo owner Richard Tindale said the impact on the animals appears to have been minimal.

He said several have shown some signs of stress and these have been addressed by veterinarians and keepers. The concerns are for any medium- to long-term effects.

The hot weather conditions have also hit visitor numbers to the zoo, which, like many Canberra tourist attractions, usually has its busiest weeks of the year from 26 December to 15 January.

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Mr Tindale said the revenue raised in this period subsidises the quieter months. Likewise, it is also Jamala Wildlife Lodge’s busiest period. Jamala subsidises the zoo for the balance of the year and raises funds for the zoo’s continued expansion and improvement.

As a direct result of the smoke and the publicity surrounding it, Mr Tindale said the revenue between 26 December 2019 and 15 January 2020 dropped by 49%. Jamala Wildlife Lodge bookings also dropped by 20% for January and are on track to drop even further for February.

He said there is a real concern that the publicity regarding Canberra’s air quality could have an ongoing impact on the ACT’s tourism and accommodation market.

Despite the significant decline, Mr Tindale said “we extremely grateful that at this stage the only impact on ourselves, along with a level of discomfort, has been financial”.

“We obviously wish to see the amazing efforts of the community and government to help those directly affected, including wildlife, to continue to be the main focus. However, any government input to bolster tourism in the ACT is appreciated by operators and by their staff, who are getting reduced shifts.”

The zoo has only closed once this summer due to weather, which was on 4 January this year. It was closed from 2pm on Friday 31 January and Saturday 1 February due to the forecasted extreme temperatures.

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