Environmental Quality Program

Because the Brookfield Zoo is concerned for the safety and well-being of animals and human visitors alike, we pay scrupulous attention to the variety of environments we establish. Creating and maintaining the many bodies of water found in habitats around the zoo is no small challenge. Our Water Quality Monitoring Program, a major component of our Environmental Quality Program, shoulders this responsibility.

The program takes the quality of our water very seriously—with good reason. 

Water is essential to life, a fact we humans tend to take for granted. But any visit to the zoo reinforces the crucial role that water plays for all living creatures. We maintain over sixty different aquatic systems and water features throughout the zoo, from simple ponds to complex salt-water coves, and create special effects environments ranging from basic rain to humid rain forests. Along with all this, we also maintain interactive spray pads and fountains to provide an optimal environment for our human guests. For all our bodies of water, we apply rigorous testing and safety standards that meet and often exceed regulatory standards, including those set by the EPA. All of our aquatic systems are tested on a regular basis. We test older established systems at least once each week, and newer systems and those our guests come in contact with more frequently, sometimes as often as twice a day. Besides ensuring that our water systems are safe and sufficient for the needs of the animals that depend on them, the Water Quality Monitoring Program also looks beyond our own confines. In keeping with CZS’s strong commitment to conservation, the Program also plays a leading role in developing conservation-minded models for zoo water-quality control worldwide.

Quality of Life

At any zoological facility with closed recirculating aquatic systems, it is important to provide a safe and healthy environment for animals to thrive in. This environment should closely reflect the natural environment from which the animals originate thus promoting natural behaviors such as feeding, courtship, and breeding. At Brookfield Zoo, the Chicago Zoological Society continually strives to improve the lives of all animals through the use of leading edge environmental monitoring equipment and methods, while setting the standard for animal care and welfare in the zoo and aquarium community. Brookfield Zoo’s Environmental Quality Program consists of four divisions: the Water Quality Monitoring Program, the Indoor Air Quality Assessment Program, the UVB Lamp Assessment and Monitoring Program, and the Thermal Neutral Zone Monitoring Program. John Kanzia, the Environmental Quality Manager, uses over thirty different instruments to monitor all of the environments that we provide for our animal ambassadors throughout the zoo.

Water Quality Monitoring Program
Instrumentation in the Water Quality Laboratory at the zoo is used to analyze water from all of our recirculating aquatic animal systems, water features, and public water contact areas. The current lab was constructed in 1993 at the Animal Hospital located behind the Perching Bird House. The Water Quality Program was developed in the mid 1990’s when construction of the Living Coast building began. There are currently over sixty recirculating freshwater and marine aquatic systems and water features located in eighteen locations around the park. Throughout the week, the Environmental Quality Manager is responsible for sampling and testing every one at least once each week to monitor the general health of the systems and make sure that parameters in the environments reflect conditions in nature as closely as possible. Older, more stable aquarium systems are tested once each week, while new systems and quarantine systems (systems where new animals coming into the collection live temporarily while we check for and treat disease), are tested daily. While in operation, interactive water features (spray pad, pad stream) are tested twice per day to ensure that county and state regulations are met. The zoo also has several “satellite” water quality labs located at the Living Coast, the Swamp, and Seven Seas. These smaller facilities are used for basic monitoring by Keeper or Life Support staff on days when the Environmental Manager is not on-grounds. 

The main Water Quality Laboratory is equipped with a combination of bench top instrumentation, field instruments, deployable data loggers and chemical reagents to perform temperature, pH, salinity/conductivity, free or total chlorine, free or total bromine, ammonia-nitrogen, nitrite-nitrogen, nitrate-nitrogen, orthophosphate, copper, iron, alkalinity, calcium hardness, dissolved oxygen, total dissolved gas, and oxidation reduction potential tests. Wet chemistries are performed with Hach reagents and are analyzed with a DR 4000 spectrophotometer. John performs over 20,000 water tests each year to ensure the health and safety of the zoo’s collection. All of the data collected is entered into a networked Water Quality Database, and reports are sent to curatorial staff and keepers via email with a brief summary of the findings for each area and an explanation of how to resolve any water quality issues that were identified.

Bacterial analysis of water samples is also an integral part of the water testing program. Samples are collected every week from aquatic systems with ozone or ultraviolet (UV) disinfection systems, fountains, and interactive water features. Total bacteria, total coliform and total fecal coliform counts are monitored. By performing this testing, John can ensure that disinfection systems are working properly and that bacterial counts are within normal limits.

John uses unique water quality data loggers called Hydrolabs and Aquaguards to remotely monitor twelve exhibits and water features around the zoo. There are Aquaguards at the Living Coast, and The Swamp. There are Hydrolabs in the Dolphin pool, Pinniped pool, Great Bear Wilderness, and Indian Lake. The Hydrolabs collect data and save it on an internal memory card; the Aquaguards also collect data, but can contact John and other CZS staff via pager and e-mail if any water quality issues arise.

Our Environmenta Quality Manager John Kanzia participates in the EPA Volunteer Lake Monitoring Program from May until October every year by making observations about and collecting samples from Indian Lake. Two Hydrolabs are deployed in Indian Lake from spring until fall to monitor temperature and dissolved oxygen at various depths to help determine the health of the lake. Surface and bottom water samples are also collected every two weeks and brought back to the lab for bench-top analysis. CZS works closely with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) and the Cook County Forest Preserve District to manage the lake and maintain it as a waterfowl sanctuary and a Bluegill and Largemouth Bass stocking source for public lakes in the county.
The Chicago Zoological Society’s Water Quality Laboratory has established a program that has been developed from published standards and accepted ‘best practices’ from aquatic life support professionals.

Indoor Air Quality Assessment Program

John also has an Andersen Microbial Impactor kit, which is designed for the quantitative analysis of indoor air quality by capturing and culturing airborne microorganisms. The kit consists of a vacuum pump, rubber tubing, the impactor canister (made up of an inlet cone, jet stage, and base plate), and a nutrient agar plate. When the vacuum pump is turned on, air and airborne organisms in the vicinity are drawn into the canister. Larger particles like fungal spores speed up as they pass through the jet stage and impact the agar plate, which is placed in an incubator for several days to allow any microorganisms that were captured to grow so that they can be counted and identified. By comparing what type and number of organisms he finds in samples of the outside air to what type and number of organisms he finds in samples of the inside air, John can determine how well ventilation and air filtration systems and are working and ensure that our animal ambassadors have clean, safe air to breathe. John checks several locations around the zoo every month.

UVB Lamp Assessment and Monitoring Program
Many of our animal ambassadors require sunlight in the UVB wavelength range (280 – 320 nm) in order to use calcium in their diet to build strong bones and stay healthy. Since many of our animals live indoors, we have to supplement that light artificially with special lamps designed to provide light in the UVB range. John works with the Associate Curator of Aquatics and Reptiles and other reptile and amphibian husbandry staff to inspect our exhibits and lighting systems regularly to ensure that the animals have access to the appropriate type and amount of light and heat that they need to live comfortably. For inspections, we use handheld Solarmeter 6.2 UVB meters and thermohygrometers (temperature and humidity measuring devices) to analyze the lighting and environment. We’re always testing new and improved UVB lamp technologies to make sure that our reptile and amphibian friends get the best care possible.

Thermal Neutral Zone Monitoring Program

The USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) designed a kit consisting of a non-contact infrared thermometer, a pocket weather meter, a pyranometer (device used to measure solar radiation), and a series of calculations that USDA inspectors could use to determine how much energy animals need to use to regulate their body temperature to different environmental conditions. The thermal neutral zone is the temperature range in which an animal needs to use minimal energy to thermoregulate its body temperature to adjust to the ambient temperature in its environment. Animals can regulate their body temperature through a variety of behaviors, such as pacing, panting, sweating, moving into shade or sunlight, or going indoors. John uses a Thermal Neutral Zone Monitoring Kit in order to be able to seasonally monitor animals at the zoo that spend a lot of time outside to ensure that they are within their thermal neutral zones. It’s especially important in the summer and winter when outside temperatures are either very hot or very cold.

By continuously monitoring the environments we provide for our animals with an array of bench-top, in-line and field equipment, closely studying the results, and communicating regularly with the staff that interacts with the animals on a daily basis, it becomes possible to recognize inconsistencies in environmental quality and/or behavior and deal with potential issues proactively rather than reactively.