Life support technicians

In Building the Ark, Interviews on December 30, 2009 at 11:29 pm

The Lion House at the Bronx Zoo in 1906, designed by Heins and La Farge

The Reptile House at the Bronx Zoo where the Kihansi spray toads are kept in their bio-secure ark was built in 1899 by the architecture firm of Heins and La Farge, which also designed the Cathedral of St. John the Divine on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The Reptile House still uses the original pipes to bring in New York City water, which is a huge problem for the incredibly sensitive toads and the zookeepers responsible for recreating the spray of the remote waterfall they’re originally from. Over a year ago, they brought in a “life support technician specialist,” according to Alyssa Borek, the 33-year-old zookeeper who takes care of the Kihansi spray toad population on a daily basis, and through trial and era developed a super-water filtration system. Here is Alyssa’s description of the individual filters and water treatment steps that the tap water at the Reptile House now goes through before it’s sprayed into the toads’ terrariums. (A micron or micrometer (µm) is one millionth of a metre. For an idea of how small that is, consider that a strand of human hair is approximately 100 microns and a strand of spider web silk is roughly three to eight microns.)

One 25 micron strainer.

Two five micron filters.

A one micron filter.

The “Ozonator.”

One carbon tower.

One arsenic filter.

A One micron filter.

One five micron filter.

A one micron filter.

A fail-safe carbon tower.

A one micron filter.

Alyssa said the lighting and misting system is automated so she doesn’t have to fiddle with it for months at a time. The really time-consuming thing is feeding. “I do a lot of bug cultures. Fruit flies, crickets, springtails, woodtails. The insects are actually more work than the frogs,” she said. “I love our water system though. It’s amazing.”

The big question is how the Tanzanian public will view similar efforts and resources going into treating water at facilities in Dar es Salaam and near the Kihansi gorge where the toads will be kept in the near future. At the moment only 55 percent of the country’s population uses “improved drinking-water sources” (ie. has safe water), according to UNICEF.


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