City of Joburg

Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo

Johannesburg Zoo


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Every winter, the Joburg Zoo moves its Nile crocodiles into the Hot House to keep them warm for the city's cold winters.

crocs1WINTER in Johannesburg often spells below-freezing temperatures overnight and in the early mornings. Mid-winter brings cold dry days, during which the clear bright sunshine helps residents shake off the chilly blues. But while many animals at the Johannesburg Zoo tolerate the change in season by growing thicker fur, hibernating, or spending more time in the sun, others need extra-special care.

Reptiles – snakes, crocodiles, lizards, and others – slow down in winter. While a crocodile's metabolism is high during summer, it slows down in winter and the crocodile becomes inactive and doesn't eat. It cannot regulate its body temperature, and, to survive, must be kept warm.

So, every winter veterinarians and animal staff capture and relocate the Johannesburg Zoo's Nile crocodiles from Crocodile Country to the Hot House, where temperatures are kept higher with heaters and infrared lights. The crocodiles remain indoors until spring.

crocs2Corralling them into the Hot House takes a good five hours, and is quite demanding. Dr Katja Koeppel, Zoo general manager for scientific services, says, "It was a challenge to capture the crocodiles as they have grown in body weight … Secondly, the enclosure was slippery as we had to drain water leaving mud only. We had to look out for other crocodiles to protect ourselves. Our mission was accomplished as all crocodiles were moved and no one was injured, but all of us were covered in mud."

Timothy Netsianda, Zoo reptile keeper, says "The crocodiles were captured because they won’t go into the Hot House on their own. They are trained to feed inside the Hot House in summer, but the strategy does not work in winter because they do not eat. So the best alternative is to capture them."

The Zoo also stocks up on cold and flu medicines for the other animals, as a sniffle or two among them during the cold months is not uncommon. The Zoo staff also closely monitors the weather so they can respond quickly if the temperature drops below zero, and move sensitive animals indoors, making sure all the animals survive winter.