From June 26th till 29th, the province of British Columbia experienced its hottest summer. The Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Strategy confirmed that this was a record-breaking weather temperature, and it was the hottest week of the summer. The maximum temperature reached about 45 degrees centigrade in the Lower Mainland.

Not only was it hard for humans to tolerate the heat, but other animals had a difficult time, including the animals in WPC’s conservation breeding programs at the Greater Vancouver Zoo. There, WPC is breeding, headstarting and sheltering two flagship species for BC wetlands, to ultimately increase the populations in the wild. The Oregon spotted frog is Canada’s most endangered frog, while the western painted turtle is BC’s only remaining native pond turtle. The rising temperatures were closely monitored by biologists at the facility, and the health of the animals was paramount.

Fortunately, the western painted turtles in our head-starting program are kept indoors, so the biologists had only to turn off their tank heaters.

Western painted turtles in the indoor conservation breeding tanks. Turning down the heat is all that is required to help them battle the BC heatwave. Photo: Stephanie Winton

However, the Oregon spotted frogs in our conservation breeding program are kept outside, and  their tubs were heating up fast. The tubs mainly were heating up in the middle of the day when the temperature was about 42-45 degrees centigrade, but were not cooling down at night. The outside of the tubs were getting so hot that staff had to be careful not to burn themselves. This was an alarming situation.

Biologists took immediate action to reduce the water temperature for the frogs. Because of the sheer size of the tubs and the number of animals, transfering them to indoor facilities was not an option.  Therefore, the first step was to make shade over all the tubs. Biologists, with the help of the Greater Vancouver Zoo’s maintenance team, found every canopy tent at the zoo and set them up over all the frog and tadpole tubs. The second step was to change 60% to 70% of the water for all the tubs once or twice a day to try and keep the water cool.

Oregon spotted frog conservation tanks during June’s heatwave, as biologists attempt to keep them cool.

However, even with all the efforts, the tubs were still heating up. The biologists came up with a third solution – using a powerful fan to help with the airflow. The fan aided when the biologists sprayed water over the tubs to mitigate the heat.

Fortunately, the heatwave took place only 5 days, and we managed it very well. We reduced the water temperature for the frog and tadpole tubs with all the heat control efforts and saved them from the scorching weather.

An Oregon spotted frog in the conservation breeding tanks. Photo: Greater Vancouver Zoo

Andrea Gielens

Lead Biologist – Fraser Valley Wetlands Recovery Program

Andrea manages WPC’s captive breeding and release programs for the Oregon spotted frog and the coastal western painted turtle. Andrea has studied at-risk reptiles and amphibians in Canada and abroad, including a term at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey. Andrea also manages the Taylor’s checkerspot butterfly recovery program in BC.

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