Posted on

Preparing Your Facility for Hurricanes and Other Natural Disasters

preparing for natural disasters

Hurricane Ian left extensive damage as it passed through Florida. Homeowners and businesses did what they could to prep for the storm.

Zoos and other animal care facilities couldn’t simply evacuate until the storm passed. Ashlee Sklute, public information specialist with Florida Fish and Wildlife, told reporters that all licensed captive wildlife owners have a Critical Incident Plan (CIP).  A CIP outlines what steps will be taken to reduce the risk of escape and harm to the animals during an event such as Hurricane Ian. Days before the hurricane hit the coast, zookeepers, veterinarians, and other animal professionals stocked up on food, water, medications, and other supplies required by the animals. Many animals were temporarily housed in raised pens and containment areas.

No one likes to think about emergencies and that’s the reason a facility must scramble to find solutions when an incident arises. Zoo Miami had to heard their Caribbean Flamingos into a rest room when Hurricane Andrew hit back in 1992. Today they have an aviary that can withstand the force of a hurricane. Having a plan and proper equipment can make an otherwise chaotic event pass with minimal stress, and save precious time that could be spent on other tasks.

Here are some simple ideas that you can adapt to your facility.

  • A large animal cart is an easy way to quickly roll individual animals to another location. You use the same cart to transport several smaller animals at one time too. Carts with bars can be less stressful than an enclosed crate, depending on the animal and temperament.
  • If you’re moving large reptiles, like crocs and alligators, an enclosed cart has proven to work well. Instead of having thrashing arms and legs sticking out of the bars, an enclosed cage or wheeled cart keeps the animal contained.
  • A rolling bird cage can function as a temporary home for a large bird, like macaws and cockatoos. It can also make it easier to transport a collection of small birds like finches. Be sure to provide a perch or two.
  • Facilities often use raised flooring to keep pens and animals above ground level. This can help with sanitation and minor flooding. An old pallet can do the job in an emergency but there are also engineered devices that raise pens and animals above water and dampness that are more sanitary in daily use.
  • Don’t forget to keep supplies elevated too. An aluminum dunnage rack is easy to move and makes it simple to stack supplies wherever they are needed.
Dunnage Rack


Need more ideas? The Zoo and Aquarium All Hazards Partnership has a series of online videos that provide guidance in hazard preparedness. Once plans are in place, put the plans to the test and see if they can be refined.

Otto Environmental products are easily incorporated into emergency transport and housing plans. You’ll find more information on our website. Contact us for assistance with specifications and customization.

Posted on

Animals That Rarely Get Cancer – Current Research Explores Why

Cancer is the one of leading causes of death globally among humans. But did you know that cancer is widespread among animals? The American Cancer Society estimates in 2022, 1,918,030 new cancer cases are projected to arise in the United States alone. Each time a cell divides, there is a chance for a genetic mutation. These mutations can lead to cancer. Chances are you know of someone affected by the disease. Cancer takes its toll on wild and domesticated fish, birds, mollusks, reptiles, and mammals. Some animals develop forms of cancer similar to humans.  Rare forms are contagious! Devil Facial Tumor Disease (DFTD), a contagious cancer, has decimated Tasmanian Devil populations. On the opposite side, some animals seem to be almost immune to cancer.

Why elephants rarely get cancer has puzzled researchers for decades. New research revealed elephants have 38 additional modified copies of the gene TP53, which acts as a tumor suppressor (Humans have only two). Elephants also have a more robust mechanism for killing damaged cells that are at risk for becoming cancerous. But elephants aren’t the only animals resistant to cancer, whales are too!

Unlike elephants,  whales have only one copy of the TP53 gene. Being so large and having so many cells should mean greater chance of DNA mutations, which lead to cancer cell development. But genetic research on bowhead and other whales, indicate that whales have fewer DNA mutations than other animals, which may be one of the reasons for resistance to cancer. One theory is that whales have a more efficient cancer suppression system.

elephant drum
Elephant Drum Enrichment Device


Another animal, much smaller than whales, is also the subject of cancer research. While mice are very prone to cancer, the Naked Mole Rat (Heterocephalus glaber) is not. Studies at The Gorbunova and Seluanov Laboratory (University of Rochester) found that the animals make an ultra-high molecular weight form of hyaluronic acid, which may play a role in cancer resistance.

The Blind Mole Rat (Spalax) is also the subject of cancer research. Tumors have never been observed in these animals. Research demonstrated that Blind Mole Rats are resistant to spontaneous cancer but also lab-induced cancer. Spalax fibroblasts inhibit cancer growth and facilitate cancer cells death.

So, what does this mean for the direction of cancer research? Daniela Tejada-Martinez at the Austral University of Chile is studying tumor-suppressing whale genes. She says:

“It’s not like we’re gonna be taking whale genes and putting them into humans and making humans cancer resistant,” says Lynch. “But if you can find the genes that play a role in tumor suppression in other animals, and if you could figure out what they’re doing, maybe you can make a drug that mimics that for human treatment.”

Posted on

Petting Farms: A Quick Guide to Everything You Should Know

petting farms goat and child

What are Petting Farms?

Petting farms are a collection of farm and exotic species that are calm and friendly enough to be touched and fed. Even though public zoos became popular in the 1700s, the attendance of visitors to zoos in the United States has increased by 20% in the last 15 years. Although they are similar, petting farms and petting zoos are usually geared towards smaller, local operations. On the other hand, zoos are large, commercial businesses with more animals, buildings, and exhibits.

For many people, petting farms are fun and exciting because they give people an opportunity to see and connect with various animals. Depending on the size and operation style of the petting zoo, they may even offer rides on large animals or the chance to hold a small animal. For these reasons and many others, petting farms are getting more popular all the time.

What Animals are Common at Petting Farms?

Petting farms often have numerous species of animals to see, touch, and interact with. A majority of animals, such as goats, sheep, pigs, cows, horses, donkeys, alpacas, llamas, turkeys, chickens, ducks, and rabbits are domesticated species from farms. Although these animals may seem ordinary to people living in rural or farming communities, people elsewhere will be making lifelong memories.

Also, most petting farms feature some sort of exotic or unusual animals. These can be more exciting to see in person and attract more visitors. Some of these may include deer, camels, wallabies, emus, large parrots, tortoises, iguanas, peacocks, and zebras. These animals are less commonly seen or interacted with in daily life, even in rural areas.

General Do’s and Don’ts

Like any public place, there are rules and expectations about what you are and are not allowed to do there. It can be important to follow these rules for reasons such as the safety of the people, the safety of the animals, and biosecurity.


  • Follow directions and rules posted by the petting farm
  • Walk around the enclosures calmly
  • Stay in the designated petting farm guest areas
  • Feed the animals what is permitted by the petting farm
  • Wash your hands after touching the animals
  • Have a great time


  • Think that the rules don’t apply to you
  • Run, jump, or climb on, around, or into the enclosures
  • Wander or sneak into prohibited or ‘employee only’ areas
  • Feed the animals treats or snacks you brought with you
  • Put your hands on or near your face before washing them

Where to Find Petting Farms Near You

These days, the best way to find petting farms near you is to search for them online. Local petting farms may come in the form of a functioning farm, mobile petting farm, or even backyard set-ups. You should be able to find information regarding the animals, events, facilities, and more on their website or over the phone. Going to a local petting farm is also a great way to support small businesses in your community.

Posted on

Tips for Enriching Your Animal’s Aquatic Habitat

enriching device for aquatic animal polar bear

Summertime brings many visitors to zoos and public aquariums. It is no secret people love watching animals have fun in the water. But as any animal care professional knows, it takes more than just water to keep the animals engaged with their environment.

Ursids are inquisitive. Bears need interesting things to keep them curious and active in their environment. Bears really enjoy wrestling with large objects on land and in the water. The Funny Float is designed to provide large animals like bears and tigers with a toy that is the right size and shape, and able to stand up to the rough treatment dished out by these animals. Instead of taking a one size fits all approach, the Funny Float is available in a variety of sizes and wall thickness so you can match the float to the animal. Funny Floats are available in over twenty color patterns, making it easy to select the right design for your exhibit.

If you are caring for polar bears, penguins, otters, turtles, and other animals that enjoy the water, the Ice Flow has proven to be a winner. The Ice Flow is a floating platform for penguins and other birds. It’s also something for bears and tigers to push around. To increase engagement and curiosity, the Ice Flow has a food chamber that slowly releases food scent and flavor through six grooves molded into the structure.

Creating the proper environment for penguins is key to their long-term wellbeing. Many of the more common enrichment tools are not interesting to the birds. Some Penguin keepers have given up on the idea of using enrichment toys. Georgia Podmore from Penguins International notes that birds are sometimes nervous around the balls and other objects. She suggests experimenting with a mirror suspended under water. This is good advice. Our Underwater Mirror is built for this purpose! The exhibit-safe Lexan mirrors and stainless-steel hardware are durable and will not corrode. The Underwater Mirror provides penguins (and other aquatic life) an engaging focal point within the underwater environment.

An otter environment requires land and aquatic habitats to reduce stress and keep the family groups cohesive. It is recommended to provide otters with complex shapes in the aquatic side of the display. Aussie Dog Zoo designed their Otter Float with this in mind. The Float provides a stable platform for lazing in the sun and playing with others in the group. A Lexan mirror completes the package for full sensory, physical and interactive enrichment. Penguins and other seabirds also find the floating platform appealing.

A simple way to stimulate many of the animals in your care is with our Teaser Balls. More than a regular ball toy, Teaser Balls are a ball within a ball. This design has proven popular with many animals because it provides physical and auditory stimulation. The sights and sounds of the rattling balls are like a puzzle to solve. Whether on land or in the water, your animals will love chewing, pushing and playing with a Teaser Ball.

Posted on

Customer Favorite: Kong Quest Wishbone

dog excited by kong quest wishbone

Like most animals, dogs need to play. It is how they socialize, explore their environment and burn off excess energy.

A good game of fetch or tug-of-war can be great fun for you and your pup, but there are also a few games that only dogs can play alone – like the Kong Quest Wishbone.  

kong quest wishboneDogs that don’t have the opportunity to play with different toys or people can get bored quickly and begin to exhibit problem behaviors, like anxiety, chewing, digging, jumping up, biting, and even depression. As with all animals, it’s essential to have a variety of dog toys.  

Dog toys like the Kong Quest Wishbone have different functions, and to get the most fun out of your dog toys, you can also stuff them and freeze them for your pup and keep some other toys hidden away for later on.  

Dog toy trunks come in handy for this, especially if you’re like us and enjoy perusing the pet product sections, whether for dogs, horses, cats, or livestock. 

The Kong Quest Wishbone is an excellent toy for dogs that like to chew. It’s crafted from non-toxic, durable rubber and has a hollow center that you can fill with treats as a tasty reward. The Kong Quest Wishbone is also great for interactive playtime. You can hold one end of the toy while your dog chews on the other or use it to play tug-of-war. 

The Kong Quest Wishbone is available in two sizes: small and large, and is crafted in a few colors like purple (large breeds) and orange (small size).  

Kong toys are known for their durability and quality, and the Kong Quest Wishbone is no exception. It is made from high-quality materials and is built to last. It’s also dishwasher proof for an easy wash!  

If you are looking for a fun pet toy that will keep your dog entertained and mentally stimulated, the Kong Quest Wishbone is a good chew interactive dog toy. Here’s the takeaway: 

The Wishbone is a treat dispensing toy with loads of personality! 

  • Features a unique design to challenge and engage 
  • Cleans teeth and helps with teething 
  • Allows for high-value treats and kibble insertion for fun, interactive play. 
  • Crafted in assorted colors 
  • Suitable for all breeds and life stages 

Fill the Kong Quest Wishbone with your dog’s favorite treats or kibble, and watch them have a blast trying to get to the goodies inside. Not only is the Kong Quest Wishbone a great way to keep your dog mentally and physically stimulated, but it also helps to clean their teeth and massage their gums.  

The takeaway with this interactive dog toy is that it keeps your pup entertained while also being suitable for their health! The Kong Quest can be helpful for the following: 

  • Separation anxiety 
  • Puppy teething 
  • Boredom 
  • Canine depression 
  • Excessive barking 
  • Noise sensitivity 
  • Minimize destructive behaviors 
  • Anxious behaviors 
  • Mental stimulation 
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder 
  • Recouping from surgery 
  • Suitable for rescues and shelters to ease boredom and stress 

All-in-all, remember that dogs feel a bunch of emotions just like us. From boredom, sadness, anxiety, and stress to excitement and a need for play, our interaction with our dogs via interactive dog toys allows for further bonding and a deeper understanding of our dogs.  

Ultimately, interactive dog toys like the Kong Quest Wishbone help to create a well-rounded dog that is happy and healthy. Also, they are less likely to develop problem behaviors when combined with positive training, dog sports, pet vacays, and more.

Posted on Leave a comment

Thank You Zookeepers for All That You Do!

A group of young zookeepers, feeding of a african manatees in the Zoological Garden.

Zookeepers – our animal friends in everyone’s favorite parks around the world would be lost without them. With last week being National Zookeeper Week, we took some time to reflect on how important these members of the community are, both for the well-being of zoo creatures (big and small) and keeping the public educated about them.  

Many typical zoo-goers may not realize this, but a zookeeper’s role extends far beyond feeding animals and making sure their enclosures are tidy. Did you know…a typical zookeeper usually has the following responsibilities:   

  • Administering an animal’s medication 
  • Keeping detailed reports on animal behaviors and disclosing any unusual changes to vets or managers 
  • Assisting with certain veterinary procedures 
  • Keeping detailed records 
  • Feeding the animals 
  • Keeping the animal’s enclosure clean and maintained 

Now that’s nothing to roar at! In addition to all of these duties, zookeepers are typically equipped with a background in animal science, zoology, or biology. So, the next time you have a zoo day and attend a presentation about penguins (or the animal of your choice), rest assured that these workers really do know a thing or two about their furry, feathered, or slimy friends.   

Without these well-educated folks, many animals would still be on the world’s endangered list. It’s thanks to the tireless efforts of zookeepers that species can revitalize, repopulate, and rehabilitate, both in zoos and in the wild.  

 Thank you, zookeepers!  

We would like to recognize our zookeeper friends at a few zoos around the country: