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Impact of Olympic fireworks on zoo tested

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Those bursting noises heard near the University of Utah Friday afternoon might not have caused too great an alarm among the people in the area, but for the animals at the Hogle Zoo, the noises were plenty alarming.

Workers from Logan-based Fireworks West, one of the three pyrotechnics companies that will put on the many fireworks shows to be staged during the Winter Games, shot off 10 fireworks shells from the Bonneville Golf Course at 1 p.m. Friday as a small test run for the animals at Hogle Zoo to see how they would react to the noise.

The test came at the request of Craig Dinsmore, executive director of Hogle Zoo. The Salt Lake Organizing Committee has been planning to launch fireworks for the opening and closing ceremonies from a variety of spots, including two locations that are relatively close to the zoo.

"The zoo is very concerned about any events in the area that might impact the animals' welfare, particularly in light of what happened this week with the giraffe," said Salt Lake City Fire Marshal Dan Andrus.

Dinsmore said some eyes were opened because of the test.

"We did some things that were very informative for SLOC to see, and they now know that we're not just kooks, our animals do react to these noises," Dinsmore said. "We did see some startled responses on a few of our animals, which causes some concern, and based on that SLOC will continue to work with us to find some solutions to our concerns."

During the test, Dinsmore had all the zoo keepers spread through the area keeping an eye on all of the animals to see their reactions. He said the giraffes, cheetahs and big horn sheep all showed acute reactions to the noise and got very nervous.

Dinsmore emphasized that there were enough responses from the animals to warrant SLOC's looking at changing some things.

"I think the possible solutions to the noise problem are the modification of the pyrotechnics or the removal of the site," Dinsmore said. "This test site is only one of more than a dozen on the east bench that they will be using. We're concerned only about the ones that are closest to us, though."

The other fireworks site that is close to Hogle Zoo is at This Is the Place Heritage Park. This site will also be tested for loudness sometime next week, Dinsmore said.

Kevin Kelly, SLOC's pyrotechnics coordinator, said they still need to consult with their pyrotechnics vendor and that it is still too early to talk about any changes that might be made to the ceremonies fireworks show.

Dinsmore said he has been in contact with other zoos around the nation to hear about their experiences with nearby fireworks.

"We've had contact with a number of other zoos, and the responses range from not too much impact to reports of injuries that have occurred because of animals spooking and running into the fences and such," Dinsmore said.

"When I describe the size and scope of the display, other zoos were pretty alarmed and said, 'If I were you, I'd be nervous.' That's a lot of fireworks going off in a short amount of time."

A few people in the area did get thrown by the fireworks test noise. Salt Lake police officer Eric Irvine said he received six calls from nervous neighbors around the golf course who thought they had heard gun fire.

Andrus said that there were similar calls in October when test fireworks were shot off the same night the United States started bombing Afghanistan.

E-mail: pthunell@desnews.com