‘Cold play’ helps Detroit Zoo animals beat the heat

Evan Carter
The Detroit News

Royal Oak —The Detroit Zoo showed visitors on Tuesday how they keep animals cool when the temperatures start soaring.

To beat the heat, zoo keepers gave animals ice cups filled with food and provided the animals opportunities for “cold play” in water or mud pits. Although zoo officials were monitoring the animals during the hot temperatures, they said they monitor all the animals closely regardless of the weather.

“For all of the animals, we’re always looking to keep them active, happy and give them an overall good quality of life,” said Elizabeth Arbaugh, the zoo’s curator of mammals.

Tuesday’s high temperature reached 90 degrees, seven degrees hotter than average, according to National Weather Service. The temperature is expected to drop to around 80 degrees by the weekend.

Having a few hot days is typical for Michigan and the state averages 12 90-plus degree days in a typical summer.

At the zoo, keepers monitor animals every day from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and animals receive regular medical monitoring even when temperatures aren’t extreme. Except for a few animals, the feeding and watering remains unchanged.

The zoo houses animals from different climates, some, like the grizzly bears from Alaska, are naturally cooler and some, like the warthogs from sub-Saharan Africa, are naturally warmer.

The animals native to warmer climates acclimate to the hot temperatures easier, but according to Dr. Stephanie Allard, the zoo’s director of animal welfare, animals react differently to heat, even within the same species.

Many animals are less active because of the heat, but some, like the warthogs, chased one another throughout their pen during the morning.

The animals’ enclosures use different methods to keep the animals cool, simulating the animal’s natural habitat. Some, like the polar and grizzly bears have pools to swim in. Others, like the warthogs and rhinos, have mud pits to wallow, or roll around in. Many animals have cave-like structures that provide shade.

“The goal in general is to provide (visitors) opportunities to see what (animals) do in the wild,” Arbaugh said.

The ice cups used to feed the animals vary in size and content . The cups’ portions vary from the size of a yogurt cup to the size of a trash can.

The cups’ content ranges from apples, grapes, fish or even Gatorade and spices.

But, while Arbaugh said hot days cause zoo keepers to be cautious of how animals are doing, animal care procedures barely change as a result of the hotter temperatures. Dealing with hot days is part of staff training.