Wark, J. D., Wierzal, N. K., Cronin, K. A. 2020. Mapping shade availability and use in zoo environments: A tool for evaluating thermal comfort. Animals 10(7), 1189.
For many species in zoos, particularly megafauna vulnerable to heat stress, shade is a key environmental resource. However, shade availability has received comparatively less attention than other aspects of the zoo environment. In this study, we share a simple low-cost approach that we applied to document shade availability across 33 zoo enclosures. We then combined these assessments with behavioral observations of enclosure use and shade-seeking behavior during summer months in a case study focused on Sichuan takin (Budorcas taxicolor tibetana) (n = 3), a large cold-adapted bovid. Behavioral observations were conducted before and after installation of a shade sail for the takin. Results indicated that shade availability varied widely across zoo enclosures, with the percent of shaded space ranging from 85 % to 22 % across enclosures during summer months. Shade was a dynamic resource and increased throughout the year and fluctuated across the day, with the least shade available midday. Takin showed general preferences for shaded areas near the walls of their enclosure but were observed using newly available shade from the shade sail after its installation. These accessible methods can be easily applied to assess shade within existing enclosures, evaluate enclosure modifications, and provide guidance for the design of new enclosures.