The tragopan sits on her nest incubating her egg. As the day progresses, she starts open mouth breathing to cool herself as the temperature keeps climbing. The keeper quietly adds more cover nearby to help lessen the effects of the rays of the sun. The female red panda moves around her outdoor exhibit in the relative cool of the morning but by afternoon finds solace in the air conditioned indoor quarters provided. The bull elk, who by now is drenching wet, continues to enjoy standing in (or even directly over) one of the sprinklers in the yard, reminiscent of kids playing in a sprinkler on a hot summer day. Yes, summer has arrived in Garden City, Kansas, and so has the heat.
High temperatures are something we expect in this part of the country during the summer months but just because we accept it, that doesn't mean we ignore it (the same thing goes for tornadoes). Everyone has to come up with a strategy for dealing with the heat because if you don't, it can be deadly. According to NOAA National Weather Service the top weather-related killer in the United States is heat. Statistics show there are more fatalities due to heat each year than floods, lightning, tornadoes and hurricanes combined. Averages over 10 years (1994 to 2003) show excessive heat caused 237 deaths each year. By contrast the number of deaths attributed to other weather catastrophes is far less: floods killed 84; tornadoes, 58; lightning, 63; and hurricanes, 18.
Heat is not only a problem for people but for animals as well. At Lee Richardson Zoo we offer pools, tanks, ponds and sprinklers for the animals to cool off with. The keepers offer periodic showers or baths from a well-aimed hose for those who enjoy it (elephants, alpacas, etc.). Staff members make sure all animals have shade and fresh water available. Ice treats are provided to many, made more enticing by fruits, bones, meat or other treats frozen inside. Veterinary procedures or other events such as introductions or moves are scheduled early in the day to reduce the stress on the animals (and staff) during the hottest part of the day. Some may even be postponed until the weather cools. Our juvenile giraffe was to make a trip to Chicago to his new home in mid-June but high outdoor temperatures dictated that the move be postponed until fall.
Zoo animals aren't the only ones that have to deal with the heat. Pets at home have the same challenges. If they have to be outside, be sure your pet has appropriate water and shelter for the weather. Take those long walks or play fetch during the cooler part of the day. And please don't leave pets (or kids) in the car. The temperature in an automobile can quickly become dangerous. When it's 93 degrees F outside, the temperature inside the car or truck can reach 125 degrees F in 20 minutes and 140 degrees F in 40 minutes. Even on days that don't seem that hot, being left in a car can be hazardous. When it's 72 degrees F outside, in an hour it can be 116 degrees F inside a vehicle. Leaving a window cracked open may not always be a saving grace. Research has shown that leaving a window cracked open a little bit, or even all four windows, doesn't really mitigate the rising temperature that much.
Heatstroke can affect humans and animals alike. If your pet shows symptoms (excessive thirst, heavy panting, lethargy, lack of appetite, lack of coordination, etc.), get them into the shade immediately and call your veterinarian. Offer them water to drink, apply a cold towel or ice pack to the head, neck and chest, or immerse the animal in lukewarm (not cold) water to lower the animal's body temperature gradually.
Summer has definitely arrived. Even though it's hot, you can still enjoy the outdoors responsibly. Put on the suntan lotion, wear a hat and sunglasses, go out during the cooler part of the day and drink lots of fluids. Be sure to visit the zoo when you have a chance (but leave your pets at home please). It's a nice way to spend time with visitors from out of town, get the kids out of the house or just commune with nature. There's a lot of shade and you can always stop at the Safari Shoppe to purchase a cool drink, an ice cream treat, a sno-cone or slushie.
Visit our award-winning Web site at www.garden-city.org/zoo.