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A cool down for the animals in the zoo

The heat also affects the animals in the zoo. In order to cool them down, animal keepers come up with a few ideas.

On August 3, 2022, a spectacled bear eats a large ice cream at Zurich Zoo, which was served to the animals in the zoo to cool down.

Michael Buholzer / Keystone

Many animals in zoos are in the same situation as the saber-toothed squirrel Scrat from the film “Ice Age”: They have to free their food from the ice.

Whether apples, fish, meat, nuts, because of the heat, animal keepers serve the animals their meals frozen, as a big ice cream so to speak.

An exception is the hay. The grass eaters are only partially happy when it comes frozen instead of dried.

Unlike the carnivores, like the hyenas, for them it is a nice gimmick to free flesh from blood-soaked ice. Many try to lick or bite their way through the ice.

“Employment is the priority. The fact that the ice is cooling is more of a positive side effect,” says Pascal Marty from Zurich Zoo, where the big ice creams have not just been around since this summer.

A white tiger swims in the water on August 7, 2022 in Guangzhou, China.  The weather in Guangzhou has been very hot lately, and the zoo staff tried various ways to cool the animals.

A white tiger swims in the water on August 7, 2022 in Guangzhou, China. The weather in Guangzhou has been very hot lately, and the zoo staff tried various ways to cool the animals.

Agency / Anadolu

A panda lies face down on a pile of ice in Guangzhou, China, 7 August 2022.

A panda lies face down on a pile of ice in Guangzhou, China, 7 August 2022.

Agency / Anadolu

Panting and sweating helps

The animals are suffering from the heat. Chester Zoo near Liverpool even closed its doors in July when temperatures in the UK reached their all-time high.

Those animals that originally come from cooler climates but live in western zoos are particularly affected by the heat.

“But it’s not like animals from the Antarctic or the Arctic spend the whole summer in the blazing sun,” says Marty.

The king penguins, for example, do not go outside at all, but stay in their cooled indoor enclosure in summer. They don’t tolerate thirty degrees.

However, most animals would adapt their behavior to the heat by being more active in the mornings and evenings – as they do in nature. Also, some of them might cool down by panting or sweating.

A monkey holds an umbrella in Taizhou, China during the hot summer of 2019.

A monkey holds an umbrella in Taizhou, China during the hot summer of 2019.

Tpg/Getty

In the Walter Zoo in Gossau, the chimpanzees are fed ice cream because of the heat.

In the Walter Zoo in Gossau, the chimpanzees are fed ice cream because of the heat.

Ralph Ribi/Getty

“In addition, the animals in the zoo can retreat anywhere. Our facilities are designed so that they have shade,” says Marty, pointing out that zoos think about this when they buy animals and build facilities – and not only when there is a heat wave.

A penguin waddles through a spray to cool off at Hanover Zoo on July 20, 2022.

A penguin waddles through a spray to cool off at Hanover Zoo on July 20, 2022.

Julian Stratenschulte / DPA

Water in all states of aggregation

But if there is a heat wave, the zoos come up with some ideas. In the USA In addition to air conditioning systems, animal keepers rely on water in all its physical states: gaseous, liquid, solid.

Animals that do not have a pond in their enclosure are regularly hosed down by animal keepers, given spray mist or sprinkler systems under which they can stand, or a pile of ice on which they can lie.

Even if they are exposed to a different climate zone, animals in the zoo have it easier than in nature, says Marty: “If it gets hotter, we can absorb it well with the air conditioning.”

Water for cooling off or drinking is also easier for the animals to reach in the zoo than in nature, where they may have to travel long distances to do so – and this could become even longer in the course of climate change.

A jaguar enjoys a frozen treat at Animaya Zoo in Merida, Mexico on April 18, 2022.

A jaguar enjoys a frozen treat at Animaya Zoo in Merida, Mexico on April 18, 2022.

Lorenzo Hernández / Reuters

Winter still more difficult than summer

Will zoos have to take in animals in the future to save them from global warming? Because they can no longer find food in their natural habitat? Because the ice is melting? Because the springs are drying up?

“As catastrophic as the climate crisis is, it’s not actually a threat to the animals,” says Marty. Even if the first animal species had to spread north or move to higher altitudes, animals are still primarily threatened by humans, who push them back into their habitat or hunt them down. “Zoos are more likely to think: which animal species need to be saved from being released into the wild?”

A Sumatran orangutan protects itself against the sun with the remains of a cardboard box in the monkey enclosure of Budapest Zoo, Hungary, in the summer of 2011.  At that time, the highest level 3 of the heat scale applied there due to a heat wave.

A Sumatran orangutan protects itself against the sun with the remains of a cardboard box in the monkey enclosure of Budapest Zoo, Hungary, in the summer of 2011. At that time, the highest level 3 of the heat scale applied there due to a heat wave.

Attila Manek / EPO

A brown bear cools off in water to endure the intense summer heat at Tianjin Zoo, China, June 6, 2018.

A brown bear cools off in water to endure the intense summer heat at Tianjin Zoo, China, June 6, 2018.

Tong Yu/Getty

Winter is more of a problem for the animals in the zoo. “There are many animal species, such as elephants, that we only have because we can keep them in heated indoor enclosures during the winter,” says Marty. In other countries, the conditions in summer are much tougher than here – even if some photos suggest the opposite.

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