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If I Ran the Zoo . . .

Nov 2008
Lynn Savage, Features editor

With apologies to Dr. Seuss’s young Gerald McGrew, who was bored by the usual animals on view at the zoo, there was an alternative to traveling the world, gathering exotic creatures for his all-new “McGrew Zoo.” He could have just looked at them in an all-new way.

Thermal imaging shows that flamingos have extraordinary body insulation, as most heat loss is through the single leg. Images courtesy of Steve Lowe.

Separately, two zoo visitors – Chris Lavers of Plymouth University and Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth, UK, and amateur photographer Steve Lowe – have taken to imaging the captive animals with infrared cameras. Lowe used a 640 × 480-pixel infrared imager borrowed from FLIR Systems Inc. to take thermal images of many of the creatures at the London Zoo. Lavers, whose day job includes helping to develop ways to hide combat ships at sea, has imaged animals at Paignton Zoo in Devon, UK.

Amateur photographer Steve Lowe imaged a pelican that stood and walked away after a prolonged rest atop its own feet. As it moved off, it left a trail of warm footprints.

The thermal snapshots have amazed and instructed the public at both zoos, but they also could help zookeepers and veterinarians diagnose infections and injuries by enabling comparative studies of the heat signatures of healthy and ailing animals.


A prophet in the desert, or just a meerkat basking in the glow of a heat lamp?


A zebra’s heat-absorbing darker stripes show clearly against the white areas.


A lion’s mane barely registers in infrared because it does not permit heat to escape, especially compared with the face.

camerasEuropeimaginginfrared camerasPicture Thisthermal snapshots

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