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Russia: Veterinary Specialist Says Cold Zoo Animals Don't Need Alcohol

Tea and broth, please. (AFP) Russia continues to experience record-low cold, with temperatures dipping to minus 30 degrees and beyond. The cold has paralyzed life in much of Russia, bursting water pipes, breaking down automobiles, and even freezing automatic cash machines. There have also been numerous reports about zookeepers who are trying to keep their animal charges warm by adding vodka and table wine to their water. It's a time-honored strategy for humans -- but does it work for animals? RFE/RL spoke with Dr. David Taylor, a founding member of the International Zoo Veterinary Group, which since 1976 has worked on animal-care issues at zoos, safaris, and marine parks all over the world.

RFE/RL: What do you think about these reports of Russian zoo animals being given vodka and table wine to keep warm?

David Taylor: I am not particularly enamored of this. Giving alcohol to these animals will not warm them up. In the end, they have to spend more energy getting rid of the alcohol. It's not the way to warm animals, or even humans -- it's more of a psychological effect, to have a glass of whiskey. It's much better to have a blanket or some good clothing on, you know?

RFE/RL: Does alcohol have a psychological effect on animals the way it does on humans?

Taylor: Elephants do like alcohol, but they can become quite unruly when they're on it. And I would not generally approve of the principle of giving alcohol, whether it be wine or spirits, to animals in the winter. I don't think there is any physiological or health benefit in the end.

RFE/RL: What do you recommend as appropriate care for zoo animals during extremely cold weather?

Taylor: The first thing is that their living quarters have got to be warm. They must not be locked out. For example, in Sweden, in Kolmarden Zoo, the chimpanzees have the option of going out into the snow, if they wish, through a door. But they're not forced to do it. They're not kept outside. And sometimes they go out and then they come back in to the nice warm, snug quarters that they live in, just like you and me.

RFE/RL: What about animals that come from hot climates, who are especially sensitive to cold temperatures?

Taylor: With other animals, particularly giraffes, keep them in, keep them warm. Make sure that the heating of the building, the bedding, indeed the construction of the building is such that it can take very low temperatures during the winter months. Because some animals --- and again, particularly the giraffes --- can suffer badly and you can lose them because of low temperatures."

RFE/RL: So the animals shouldn't drink alcohol. What would you give them instead to help them stay warm?

Taylor: I find in the winter, my practice has been to advise that animals such as primates -- baboons, chimpanzees, and orangutans -- I get the zookeepers to make them a nice broth to hand out to the animals, which they love. It's a broth made of vegetables, chicken, with salt and spices -- really, the sort of the broth you would quite happily drink yourself.

RFE/RL: And they really like it?

Taylor: Chimpanzees quite like the broth and baboons absolutely die for it. Of course with elephants, they wouldn't particularly fancy a broth. What I would do with them -- and I'm a great believer in it -- I give them sweet, strong tea.

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