Keepers at Paignton Zoo saved scores of animals after recent storms damaged a key building.
High winds ripped open a 36-metre-long air vent in the roof of Reptile Tropics at around 7.30 one morning, exposing vulnerable animals, plants and electrics. Staff rushed to save lizards, snakes, turtles, iguanas, chameleons and geckos as the temperature in the building dropped. Meanwhile, maintenance staff were able to carry out running repairs and prevent further damage.
In all, 65 reptiles and amphibians were saved, along with around 200 birds. It’s thought that no individuals were lost. Animals have been rehomed temporarily in buildings around the zoo including Amphibian Ark, Reptile Nursery, Crocodile Swamp, an off show crocodile quarantine facility and the Avian Breeding Centre.
Gardeners were able to move some smaller Titan arum plants to safety, but are worried about other plants in the building. While most will tolerate some cooler temperatures, frost would be a big problem. The damp is also a concern.
Zoo spokesperson Phil Knowling said: “Staff did an amazing job – they saved many, many animals. We’re still worried about some of the plants. It’s a real shame that the building is closed for half term, but the damage was significant, and will not be easy to repair.”
Assistant Curator of Lower Vertebrates & Invertebrates Jay Redbond said: “It was an amazingly smooth operation! My team and the bird keepers did a fantastic job of relocating animals. Although the temporary housing is not perfect, everything has settled in and we hope to get the damage fixed as soon as possible, so we can open Reptile Tropics again and – more importantly – get the animals back in their homes.”
The charity zoo hopes to have the building repaired in time for the Easter holidays. Meanwhile, Jay has been able to put some pygmy chameleons on show in Amphibian Ark: “These haven’t been on show before – I wanted to give our guests something new to see – however small – to make up for Reptile Tropics being shut.”
Staff used animal transport crates and plastic containers to move animals safely; they also needed specialist Venom Defender gloves in order to handle the more dangerous lizards. Three of Jay’s team and around ten bird keepers were involved.
Species living in the giant Reptile Tropics greenhouse include beaded lizards, blue tree monitors, emerald tree boa, Indochinese box turtle, lesser Antillean iguana, Parson’s chameleon, red footed tortoise, Solomon Island skink and Tokay gecko. Birds included mousebird, Javan sparrow, emerald dove, laughing thrush, Pekin robin, crested wood partridge and Vietnam pheasant. Paignton Zoo is a registered charity. For more information go to www.paigntonzoo.org.uk or ring 01803 697500.