Beating the Oklahoma Heat: How the OKC Zoo Keeps its Animal Family Cool and Comfortable

When visiting the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden in the heat of summer, many Zoo guests wonder how the Zoo’s animals keep cool. From elephants to bears and tigers to turtles, the Zoo is committed to the health, enrichment and comfortability of every wild member of its animal family.

The Zoo’s first strategy for keeping animals cool begins with the design of their habitats. Each of the Zoo’s animal habitats provide the animals consistent access to shaded structures and water sources. Many habitats include water features, such as pools, that the animals are able to submerge themselves in. These features encourage the animals to utilize natural behaviors, including swimming, to cool down.

For example, the Zoo’s Asian elephant and Indian rhino habitats, located in Sanctuary Asia, include a plethora of cooling options with the addition of five different pools, as well as a waterfall. The Zoo’s Asian elephant youngsters, six-year-old, Achara, and two-year-old, Kairavi, enjoy swimming and playing in their 218,000-gallon pool.  While the Zoo’s 19-year-old male Asian elephant, Kandula, prefers to indulge in the waterfall feature of his habitat. Rex, the Zoo’s 53-year-old male Asian elephant, can be seen cooling himself off by blowing water on himself, using his trunk. Even the Zoo’s tortoises utilize their shallow pools to regulate their body temperature throughout the day, absorbing more water by soaking than they do drinking. 

Some of the Zoo’s animal family are provided with alternative opportunities to beat the summer heat. Asian elephants and Indian rhinos dig their own mud wallows in the summer, which works to cool off their bodies and acts as a natural insect repellant. Similarly, animals such as black bears, grizzly bears and raccoon dogs, dig depressions into the earth to keep cool while napping. Though they don’t dig, the Zoo’s mountain lion brothers, Tanka and Toho, can be seen lounging inside the cooling dens of their Oklahoma Trails habitat.

During summer, the Zoo’s animal care teams also provide the animals access to their temperature-controlled, indoor habitats. This ensures that the Zoo’s animal family are presented with the choice of whether they’d like to stay outdoors or cool off for a period inside.

For additional summer fun, the Zoo’s animal care teams create ice treats for the animals to enjoy. These treats are made with a variety of flavors and food items. For example, the Zoo’s carnivores stay cool with unique popsicle creations, containing blood. These popsicles, or blood-sicles, serve as refreshing source of enrichment for the cats. Other ice treats include fish-sicles for the Zoo’s California sea lions and harbor seals, as well as fruit-flavored ice treats for the primates.

Don’t miss the Zoo’s Summer Enrichment Event, happening Friday, July 2, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Watch as some of your favorite members of the Zoo’s animal family receive tactile (touch)-themed items, created by their caretakers. Certain animals will be feeling those summer vibes as they engage with bubbles, mud, ice blocks and more! We’ll see you on your next summer visit to the Zoo.

- Laura Bottaro, administrator of behavioral husbandry

Photo: Thane Johnson

 

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