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Heat Wave! How do we Keep the Animals Cool?

As the summer heats up, we often get asked by visitors what the zoo staff does to keep our residents cool. The short answer is…a lot! Although some of our animals really like it when it’s warmer out, we have many protocols in place to make sure the animals in our care are at healthy and comfortable temperatures.

There are many factors which come into play when we are managing the microclimates of our zoo residents: species requirements, animals’ ages, whether the animal is shedding/molting, exhibit features, exhibit location, presence of shade, etc. As you might guess, there is a lot of variability in the protocols we establish for the 160+ species in our care.

The first and most important criteria is that our animals have access to clean, fresh water 24/7. When you are watching our animals in their exhibits, you may not always see the source of drinking water. For most of our exhibits, we use automatic waterers such as Lixit™ and Nelson™. These devices are directly connected to fresh water and eliminate the problems with water bowls or tubs – they can not be tipped over, never get dirty, don’t get warm and do not harbor mosquito larvae. These devices are placed in locations which work best for the animals’ husbandry and are often out of the view of the visitors for aesthetic purposes.

Just like you do with your families at home, the zoo uses sprinklers and misters to provide cooling water vapor to many of our animals. Have you ever seen the mist over the red panda exhibit? That’s a cooling too! Some of our animals, such the otters and penguins, have exhibits with major water features. For the penguins, the water goes through a device called a chiller to make sure the water remains within a healthy range. The entire penguin exhibit is covered by a giant canopy to provide shade and on really hot days we also employ misters to keep the penguins cool when they are resting in their loafing areas. The inside holding area is also kept cool. For the otters, they have the cooling effects of three pools and a stream, much of their exhibit is covered by natural shade and their inside holding is also kept cool. The Amur tigers have a small stream and pool in their outside exhibit and love to play in both when it’s hot.

Another important tool we employ is ice. We use a lot of ice, and in many different ways. We may do something as simple as placing a block of ice in an exhibit. The big cats are especially fond of this one. We may place a bunch of ice cubes in a tub of water for animals to play with and cool off. For people, popsicles and fudgsicles are very popular summer treats –they cool us off and taste great. For the zoo’s animal residents, those treats are a little different. Depending on the species, they may get fishsicles, brothsicles, juicesicles and/or bloodsicles! Our animal care staff are incredibly creative when it comes to designing flavorful, healthy and really cool “sicles.”

As you can see, when it comes to the welfare of Potter Park Zoo’s animal residents, temperature management during the summer months is of major importance. We are constantly working to find a balance between giving the animals opportunities to enjoy some sun, while still having options for cooling off when they feel like it. Just like you, we want our animals to enjoy a wonderful summer!