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Phoenix Zoo helping animals stay cool in summer heat

PHOENIX — It’s 105 degrees on a summer afternoon in the Valley, and the animals at the Phoenix Zoo need a place to cool down.

On the zoo’s wide savanna, giraffes, vultures, and cattle relax in the shade under a mesquite tree.

“Oh yeah, they love it,” said Robin Fischer, horticulturist at the Phoenix Zoo. “We try to create a microclimate. The principle is kind of evaporative cooling when we turn the sprinklers on.”

Zoo animals need to stay cool just as much as humans during summers in the desert. If not properly hydrated, they can become lethargic, dehydrated, and at times risk death, according to zookeepers.

When they need a little extra help cooling down, staff will reward the animals with their own special frozen treats.

“Fish popsicles, bloodsicles, all sorts of great things,” said Fischer.

Zoo officials make sure they only bring in animals that can withstand triple digit heat.

“We send the grizzly bears, the polar bears, and penguins to our friends in the northern states,” said Linda Hardwick, zoo spokesperson. “We try to just keep our expertise with animals that can handle the dry, arid conditions of Arizona.”

That includes squirrel monkeys and baboons.

“Baboons are African animals so this temperature for them is pretty comfortable,” said Amy, the zoo’s primate keeper. “They are well-built for hot, dry environments.”
Some animals have their own instinctive way to beat the heat. Warthogs will roll around in mud, which acts as sunscreen. Orangutans lay palm leaves on their back for shade.

The Asian elephants get a bit more attention.

“They get showers every day,” said Heather Wright, elephant manager. “Sheena weighs about 7,600 pounds, she’s a big girl. Everybody likes to get wet when it’s this hot out.”

A few exhibits up the trail, lions and tigers take a cat nap on one of the zoo’s cooling rocks.

“Our male right now is sacked out,” said Hardwick. “He’s actually laying on a concrete slab, which has an ice cold pipe that runs underneath it. So he lays on that because the coolness radiates throughout that slab and really keeps him cool.”

After the animals are done with a long day’s work, and the zoo gates close, they head inside for the evening.

“They call it a night in their air conditioned night house much like we all do when we go home,” said Hardwick.

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