Oklahomans know how intense Sooner State summers can be, and with temperatures expected to hit the dreaded triple digit territory this week, it’s a good time to explore how animals (and guests) stay cool at the Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden. Like people, animals are susceptible to heat-related ailments and the caretakers at the OKC Zoo offer a multitude of ways to help various species remain comfortable during hot weather. In addition to monitoring the animals in their care several times each day, caretakers pay special attention to any changes in behavior, watch for signs of heat exhaustion and take appropriate measures if any abnormal behaviors are detected.
Caretakers will freeze ice blocks filled with some of the animals’ favorite treats and present those to them in many different ways. This not only helps cool them off but also challenges their minds as they begin to figure out how to get a treat out of the middle of the ice.
“During periods of extreme heat, we follow species-specific protocols designed to keep our animals cool and healthy,” said Kimberly Leser, behavioral husbandry and welfare curator. “In addition to special summer enrichment activities involving frozen fruit and other items, we allow the animals the choice to stay indoors or go outside… to go where they feel more comfortable.”
In addition to icy, frozen enrichment treats, animals stay cool during summer months in a variety of ways. Animals like Indian rhinos and Pere David’s deer enjoy spending their days in mud wallows, shallow muddy pools of water that both cool down the animal and provide extra protection from the sun. Interestingly, male rhino Chandra, 32, doesn’t like the mud, preferring instead to beat the heat in a pool of water while female rhino, Niki, 11, spends hours of her summer days wallowing in the Oklahoma red dirt.
Shade structures are located throughout many outdoor animal habitats, including the Lion Overlook, Cat Forest, Wallabee Walkabout and Great EscApe habitats. These, along with natural shade provided by the Zoo’s old-growth trees, bushes and sun sails provide animals a respite from the hot summer sun. Pools are located in the habitats of the bears, rhinos, flamingos, Galapagos tortoises and marine mammals. The largest, a 220,000 galloon, 12-feet deep pool, is located in the elephant habitat and allows the animals to completely submerge themselves to swim. Although not every indoor animal habitat is air conditioned, all provide a significantly cooler space than the outdoor habitats for animals to chill out.
Zoo guests are encouraged to come weather prepared with plenty of water, a hat and protective clothing.
The Zoo has outdoor misters, misting fans and water fountains stationed throughout the park and available at no cost to guests. There are many air-conditioned indoor areas and shaded outdoor seating. Plus, the Zoo’s food service areas and vending machines provide hydrating beverages on-demand.