Nieuws - 15 november 2012

Tortoises in the cold

Who? Emilie-Julie Bos, MSc Animal Sciences
What? Observing tropical animals
Where? In a chilly English zoo

'My internship in Australia was almost arranged but due to certain circumstances the finances didn't work out. I was fed up for a moment because I dream of seeing tropical animals in their own environment. My alternative option was the Field Conservation and Research Department at the zoo in Paignton, in the south-west of England. Moneywise, that makes a big difference compared with Australia, if only because you don't need a ticket and a visa.
And it was intriguing because these zoo animals live in a completely different climate. For example, the tortoises in Paignton Zoo Environmental Park come from a climate with temperatures above 30 degrees, but they are just walking around there. How does the temperature actually affect the wellbeing of an animal like that? To find that out I would round off a study that had been going on for a couple of years. It was almost complete; I just had to do some extra observations and write an article.
But it went a bit differently in practice. My internship supervisor left the day I arrived in England and turned out not to have left any data about the research programme. Nobody could help me, and everyone had assumed that everything was already arranged. But I like a challenge like that. I started phoning former students and meanwhile I started on my own observations.
I concentrated on tortoises and howler monkeys, two species of bird and pudus (small deer). I really fell in love with the tortoises. They are never aggressive, not afraid and they are inquisitive.
Contrary to my expectations, the tropical animals did not react to the cold ambient temperature at all. Special heat lamps were hung up for the animals, but even in rain and cold winds they still wanted to go outside. We can still only guess at the exact explanation for this. Perhaps they have adapted, since they have been in England a very long time. I am going to continue studying animal behaviour as a PhD student, looking at the welfare of sows. But tropical animals won't lose their hold on me. Because regardless of whether temperature is important, I want to go to a tropical country to see the animals in their natural environment.'