How do you tell a thirsty elephant not to take a drink?
August 22, 2018 9:46 AM   Subscribe

How do you tell a thirsty elephant not to take a drink? When DC Water, the Washington, DC water authority, announced possible contamination of the city’s water supply last month, it was an irritating nuisance for residents who had to boil cooking and drinking water for 48 hours. At the National Zoo, where staff are responsible for rare and endangered animals who require thousands of gallons of water each day, the alert was a dangerous emergency. This is how they coped.
posted by gudrun (15 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
Just like the real world. The Rain forest can be exploited to help sustain our way of life...for a while.
posted by Megafly at 10:11 AM on August 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


> How do you tell a thirsty elephant not to take a drink?

You call it on the elePHONE.
You put a message on a sign with a big eleFONT.
If it can't drink, it might eleFAINT.
They found clean water, so the whole problem was irrelephant.

Ivory much enjoyed the tusk of writing these.
posted by fremen at 10:11 AM on August 22, 2018 [77 favorites]


You know how they say elephants never forget, fremen? They never forgive, either.
posted by GenjiandProust at 10:33 AM on August 22, 2018 [20 favorites]


Interesting that potentially-contaminated tap water was considered more dangerous for the animals than, basically, fish tank water. And that the bamboo misted with tap water was off limits for the pandas until had been rinsed with the reservoir water.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 10:59 AM on August 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


I used to volunteer at the Amazonia exhibit and know one of the NZP staffers mentioned in the article. I can tell you that Amazonia is awesome, but because it is at the bottom of the hill at the National Zoo, and because it doesn't have cheetahs, elephants, or pandas it doesn't get nearly as much attention as it deserves.

Having been behind the scenes, it's much more than a fish tank. The engineering that makes the river and rainforest exhibit possible is every bit as complicated as a small water treatment facility. The exhibit opened in 1992 and because of its aging infrastructure it is very expensive to operate and maintain. This water emergency is hopefully a reminder to the people who allocate money at the NZP, FONZ, and the Smithsonian that Amazonia's value is greater than its attendance would indicate.
posted by peeedro at 11:15 AM on August 22, 2018 [14 favorites]


Elephants must know how to deal with dirty, potentially-contaminated water, no? I mean, my dog is as dumb as a sack of rocks, but even he will take a pass on lapping up water if it's dirty or smells weird enough, though on a hot day he'll still lie in it (and then wonder why he gets the hose when he gets home).

I wonder if there's not something you could put in water that would discourage animals from drinking it, but still signal to them "this is okay to bathe in and cool yourself with, but don't drink it". Maybe a bitterant or something? Or something reminiscent of organic decay (Putrescine)?

Not that it would be helpful if you sprayed the animals' food with contaminated water before realizing it, as happened in DC, but in the case of a longer incident where you needed to separate "drinking water" from water for other uses. I'd imagine that most animals have some evolved understanding of the dangers of drinking contaminated water, it's just an issue of communicating "this will make you sick" in a species-relevant way.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:52 AM on August 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


You call it on the elePHONE.

Footprints in the jello?

And that's a huge water system to be out of commission for two days. Yikes.
posted by GuyZero at 1:17 PM on August 22, 2018


Elephants must know how to deal with dirty, potentially-contaminated water, no?

What makes you think that contaminated water must look or smell different from normal water? Even the clearest mountain stream contains contaminants and is unsafe for human consumption without some sort of filtering or treatment.
posted by Aleyn at 3:30 PM on August 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


But animals would drink from that stream if they couldn't sense anything wrong with it. (I mean, they get by in nature, without soap, where everything living thing is always pooping all over the place). Of course, certain animals might get sick.

The Amazonia reservoir water isn't safe for human consumption either. I would have assumed it had more and more varied contaminants than the off tap water (which apparently had coliform bacteria), but they draw a distinction, having no problem serving it up to the animals, while the tap water is dangerous.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 3:58 PM on August 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


This brings the Jazz Butcher to mind..

If you're hungry, eat your dinner
If you're thirsty, have a drink
If you're lonesome, do a jigsaw
If you're angry, stop and think
But if you're an elephant
And there are those of us who are elephants
This is what you do
You say
Has the elephant had any water
Has the elephant had any water ...


Have a listen! [Click the media tab on the gloriously ancient website to listen]
posted by chapps at 4:38 PM on August 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


(on reflection i'm sorry that my jazz butcher link doesn't respond to the tone of the post. This is an awful situation for Washington residents and the animals in the zoo!)
posted by chapps at 5:45 PM on August 22, 2018


Animals in captivity probably lose the complementary gut bacteria or whatev to deal w contaminated water once they start living in a clean environment. Like if you lived in a country that had contaminated water, you would have the low level endemic illnesses, but you’d adapt. Once you cleared out with a course of antibiotics, you’d lose the ability to function on contaminated water.

Or so my peace corps friends explained to me the purpose of getting through dysentery without antibiotics.
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:36 PM on August 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


Pruitt-Igoe: "Interesting that potentially-contaminated tap water was considered more dangerous for the animals than, basically, fish tank water."

peeedro might know better maybe but it's really not clear from the article what the fresh water setup looks like. It is possible the reservoir is filtered water stored in a tank that hasn't been exposed to animals. I've seen a large water park that worked this way. A large surge tank (like 30 cubic metres) collected water from filters before it was routed to the large pools. This accommodated varying water levels and allowed operators to adjust chemistry without closing pools. A good series of sand filters can basically remove all the biological contaminants from a water source.
posted by Mitheral at 9:46 PM on August 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


I mean, my dog is as dumb as a sack of rocks, but even he will take a pass on lapping up water if it's dirty or smells weird enough, though on a hot day he'll still lie in it (and then wonder why he gets the hose when he gets home).

Does your dog drink from the toilet?
posted by peeedro at 5:49 AM on August 23, 2018


my dog is as dumb as a sack of rocks, but even he will take a pass on lapping up water if it's dirty or smells weird enough

Meanwhile my dog will walk by perfectly nice water bowls in order to [try to] drink from the grooves in the nearest manhole cover. Every. Time.
posted by mosst at 2:52 PM on August 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


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