FROM ZOO TO YOU Surviving Mother Nature’s summer heat

By Kristi Newland

It’s officially summer, the season for lemonade stands, vacations, and hot weather. During the winter, we can’t wait for summer, and during the heat of summer, we wish for cool breezes and cooler temperatures. No matter how hard we wish, we still have to deal with whatever Mother Nature sends our way, and so do the animals.

In order to get by during the heat of the summer, animals do things very similar to what we do. We switch to wearing short sleeves, shorts, and lighter-weight clothing. The animals also shed their winter coats; just look at the Bactrian camels at the zoo. Many people opt to spend time indoors during the heat of the day. When given the option, many of the zoo residents will also stay indoors where it’s cooler. The red pandas, snow leopards, and others who live at the zoo and are native to cooler parts of the world have this behavior down pat. 

Some folks like to spend much of their summer at the pool or the lake. The takin at the zoo would definitely fit in with this group. The shade of a nearby tree is the preferred refuge of many during the summer, and this includes a number of zoo animals too. During the summer, many of us do most of our outdoor activities early in the morning before the day warms up or later in the day when it starts cooling down. 

These are also the most active times for the zoo residents during the warmer season of the year. During the heat of the day, most of them simply find a cool place to hang out. When possible, some of us may take it a little further and find a comfortable spot and take a nap during the heat of the day. A number of zoo animals also take afternoon siestas.

During the summer, zoo staff provide shade, pools, misters, and indoor access (complete with fans or even air conditioning in some cases) for the welfare of the zoo residents. There are additional things zoo staff do for the animals to help them get through the hot days. Ice in various forms is offered to many of the animals. 

The red pandas get frozen bottles of water to snuggle up with, while some of the animals get ice treats of the edible kind. The siamang will get ice cubes - sometimes plain or flavored or sometimes with fruit frozen inside. The otters prefer minnows frozen in their ice treats. The rhinos will sometimes get “rhino-sized” ice treats to enjoy. Frozen fruits or vegetables are a favorite treat for many of the animals during this time of year. In addition to sprinklers, misters and pools, the keepers will also take the time to spray down the animals that enjoy such experiences (i.e., the alpacas).

While we make concerted efforts to help the animals stay cool, sometimes they find their own special ways. Have you ever played in a sprinkler? Some of our animals do. The keepers put sprinklers out to water the grass, and the next thing you know there’s an elk walking up close to the sprinkler and just standing there getting sprayed. I once worked with a water buffalo who, anytime you were filling his pool during the summer, would walk into the empty pool and stick his head right up against the water inlet, creating quite the shower for himself and anyone standing nearby.

As you make your way through the heat of the summer, be sure to come out and enjoy the zoo. While you’re visiting, see if you can detect what’s going on to keep the zoo residents cool. And if you have outdoor pets, please make sure they have adequate shade and water to help them deal with the heat.

Kristi Newland is the director of Lee Richardson Zoo.