Utah's Hogle Zoo: Preparation for One of America's Largest Pyrotechnic Displays, the Closing Ceremony for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games
American Association of Zoo Veterinarians Conference 2003
Nancy A. Carpenter, DVM; Laurel M. Harris, DVM
Utah's Hogle Zoo, Salt Lake City, UT, USA


With huge pyrotechnic displays increasing in popularity and availability, zoos may be challenged with the noise that these shows can produce and the stress that they may have on their collections. Utah's Hogle Zoo, in Salt Lake City, Utah, was challenged with the most intense fireworks display to date on American soil. This paper describes the teamwork involved, the precautionary measures and the outcome from the pyrotechnic display for the closing ceremony at the 2002 Olympic Winter Games with regards to the animals at Utah's Hogle Zoo.

Salt Lake City won their bid for the 2002 Olympic Winter Games in June 1995. As preparations began to host the world in February of 2002, plans were made for fireworks displays during opening and closing ceremonies. The ceremonies would be held at Rice Eccles Stadium at the University of Utah just about 1 km from the zoo. The fireworks for the opening ceremony would be at the stadium but the fireworks for the closing ceremony would be spread throughout the Salt Lake valley in eleven locations and use shells up to 24 inches in diameter which are larger than any that had been fired off in Utah to date. These shells explode at 2000 feet and burst to a size of one-third to one-half of their height. This show also contained more explosions per minute than any other show previously done in America.

The zoo became aware of the plans of the Salt Lake Olympic Committee (SLOC) when applications for permits were submitted to the Fire Department. Of the initial thirteen sites proposed, two sites were located on either side of the zoo. One site was on the south side of the zoo at the Bonneville Golf Course and was within 850 feet and the other site, which was scheduled to fire the 24-inch shells, was less than 2000 feet north of the zoo at This Is The Place Heritage Park.

Zoo staff, consisting of the Director, Assistant Director, Veterinarian and Animal Care Supervisors began attending meetings with the Pyrotechnic Coordinator of SLOC to learn about the fireworks being proposed and the firing sites. It was decided to do a test of some of the smaller and medium fireworks at the two locations closest to the zoo. The largest fireworks (24-inch shells) had not arrived yet, but would not be tested due to their high cost.

For the testing, zoo staff was placed on alert and communication was via radio. Animals that would be inside the night of the show were moved inside for the testing. Staff members were placed near enclosures where the animals would be outside and in "sensitive" areas throughout the zoo. A sensitive area was considered as an area containing animals that might be sensitive to loud/sudden noises or an enclosure that might be difficult to navigate in if an animal were in a flight response. SLOC personnel were partnered with zoo personnel so all could be in contact via radio, as SLOC was also in radio contact with those firing the fireworks. The test was started with single reports from 3-inch shells and the animals' reactions were broadcast over the radio before the next shot was fired. If everything was ok, the test was continued. This test, however, was stopped short of completion due to the negative reaction from animals close to the Bonneville Golf Course site which included startle responses, running, and risk of hitting barriers.

With the results of this test, the golf course site was deemed to be too close, as the reaction to the noise from this site by giraffe and Desert Bighorn sheep was greater than the zoo was comfortable with. SLOC was asked to abandon this site as part of the program and they complied.

Arrangements were then made to contact other zoos to see if they had any experience with large fireworks displays close to or on zoo property. Disney has a fireworks display every evening, but it is over 3 km from the Animal Kingdom Collection (M. Miller, personal communication, 2001). The Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, Nebraska (L. Simmons, personal communication, 2001) and Calgary Zoo in Canada (D. Whiteside, personal communication, 2001), have had experience with large displays and have found success with firing low tone sonic bursts leading up to the show, which seemed to help warn the animals and allow them to prepare. We also felt that if the show built up over the first few minutes, instead of starting off with a huge bang, then it might not be so startling to the animals.

Manned with this information, the zoo went back to the meeting room with SLOC to see if these concepts could be incorporated as part of the show. It was decided to do another test, without the golf course site, and incorporate a repeater or multi-shot device that discharges 100 small caliber shots. The zoo staff was stationed again and partnered with SLOC for communication purposes. The test was completed successfully. There was little or no reaction to the low-level blasts and the animals tolerated the multiple reports with minimal stress or running.

In the after-test meeting, it was thought that even though the test went well, it was probably not enough to determine the reaction of the animals for a 10-min show, throughout the sky and with 24-inch shells. Discussions were then started on what more the zoo could do to protect the animals.

It was decided that the Desert Bighorn sheep and Bactrian camels would have their enclosures lit by a light tower, which consisted of a bank of four, 1000 watt, metal halide bulbs, which had been used to light parking lots for the Olympics. This would help them see their fence lines and minimize the view of flashing lights from above. Boom box radios would also be placed in areas determined to be sensitive throughout the zoo: Savannah barn, which houses Grevy's zebra and common waterbuck; elephant and giraffe buildings. The interior lights were to be left on, with the radios playing loudly, but not full volume, when the zookeepers left for the day so the animals would not be startled by people coming into their area that evening and turning on the radio.

Since the show was to be televised, the zoo had been informed as to the approximate start time but SLOC personnel were at the zoo once again for radio communication and confirmation of start time. Approximately 30 min before the start of the show, zoo personnel were positioned and the boom boxes were turned up further, all lights were turned on, heaters or any other common noise that the animals were accustomed to were activated. A minute or so before the start of the show, the radios were turned to maximum. Any untoward animal activity was to be reported via radio although there was the understanding that once the show started, there would be little SLOC could do if there was a problem.

The show was amazingly loud, vibrations shook buildings and windows, even with the lights on in buildings, the flashes of light were obvious. The animals, however, did well throughout the show. The Desert Bighorn sheep, which had previously run the fence line during the two tests, did not get up from their resting positions. One of the giraffe paced but the other two did nothing. The elephants and rhinoceroses did not respond. The show was amazing; the valley was ablaze with color and sound. It was a dramatic finale to an amazing Olympic experience.


In conclusion, zoo managers should consider that the organizers of fireworks shows will not always think to see if there is an animal facility in the area, leaving the facility vulnerable to the effects the show might cause. In this case, however, once it was brought to the attention of the Olympic Committee, they were very good about working with the zoo to protect the animals. Without the efforts of SLOC and the zoo staff, the intensity of this particular show probably would have been devastating to the zoo, but with all of the precautions taken, we had no injuries and the stress to the animals was minimized.


The authors would like to acknowledge the use of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association (AZA) Directors Listserve and the ISIS Discussions Forum Veterinary Website to collect information from colleagues to help us in our response to the situation. We would also like to thank Kevin Kelly, the Pyrotechnics Coordinator of SLOC, for his cooperation and expertise.


Speaker Information
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Nancy A. Carpenter, DVM
Utah's Hogle Zoo
Salt Lake City, UT, USA

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