Zookeepers help animals keep their cool

Animals need to beat summer heat, too; keepers get creative to keep them cool

By Crystal Moyer - Traffic/reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - With temperatures feeling like they were in triple digits Wednesday, zookeepers really heard the call of the wild at the Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens.

I spent the day as a zookeeper to see how they keep their animals cool in the summer heat.

The tigers enjoy a waterfall and pool feature in the Land of the Tiger exhibit and were chilling by the water Wednesday morning.

"Our modern exhibits, they always have some cooling (features), like these water features," one zookeeper said. "The holding (area) has air conditioning, so if it gets too hot and they need access to an area that's cooler, then they have the air conditioning."

The elephants get to go for a swim in the large water feature in their exhibit. Keepers use treats to lure the elephants toward the water and then they spray themselves down, using their trunks. They were nice enough to get me a little wet, too, when I stood too close the water. The keepers also use hoses to spray the elephants down when they need it.

"The elephants pretty much take care of themselves," their keeper said. "We just have to provide them an opportunity to get in the water. They will actually make wallows out of the mud and coat themselves with mud and it actually keeps their body temperatures down. We just have to monitor the animals to make sure they're fine. Most of the time, they're enjoying it."

The hornbills exhibit has mist ropes attached to it to spray a light mist that keeps the birds cool.

"Very, very fine mist It's just more for ambient temperature," one keeper said. "Just that little bit of mist helps keep them cooler."

The Aldabra tortoise has a water feature that he can sit in to keep cool, and the warty pigs wallow and roll around in the dirt and lie in a stream.

Keepers were also watching out for a bontebok that was released into the Africa exhibit for the first time Wednesday. He was running and bounding around and staff kept a close eye on him to make sure he didn't overheat. He seemed like he was having a great time and making lots of new friends.

The keepers also give the animals treats to help cool them down. For the lions and tigers, it's bloodcicles.

"One of our favorites, at least in the summer time, is giving them ice treats," one keeper said. "For example, tigers, we like to give what we call bloodcicles, which are just popsicles made of blood -- not our blood."

Copyright 2015 by News4Jax.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.