From pools to popsicles, Phoenix Zoo works to keep animals cool

Sheena, a 46-year-old Asian elephant, enjoys a shower at the Phoenix Zoo. The elephants’ habitats are outfitted with misters and fans, and zoo employees provide the animals with cool treats such as frozen melons and popsicles. (Photo by Nick Serpa/ Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Some animals at the Phoenix Zoo come from cooler, wetter climates, which is a challenge for zookeepers to keep them cool in the scorching desert heat.

Many of the animals have access to air-conditioned indoor spaces, but some, including the Bornean orangutans, prefer to be outside, said Jessica Petershick, a senior keeper of primates.

The zoo uses everything from water hoses and pools to special popsicles to help the animals maintain a safe and comfortable body temperature.

“We really specialize in animals that can tolerate the hotter temperatures here in Phoenix,” zoo spokeswoman Linda Hardwick said. “It heats up in the summertime. That’s nothing new for us, and our animals are used to it as well.”

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She said that first thing in the morning, sprinkler systems will water down several of the exhibits.

“Obviously, we always have lots of shade structures as well,” she said.

Many of the animals get special treats.

“We will hose them down a lot throughout the day if they are warm,” said Corey Barr, an elephant keeper. “And we bring them inside and give them showers, and we give them treats like frozen popsicles or frozen melons.”

Jessica Peterschick, a primate keeper, said her animals love popsicles made from Gatorade flavors: lemon, fruit punch, grape.

“It’s awesome to give them things like ice treats in the dead of summer because it’s a reward just like a kid getting a popsicle,” she said. “It’s awesome. It’s refreshing. It’s sweet.”

Zoo officials encourage people to visit before the hottest part of the day.

“It is our slow season. We adjust our hours,” Hardwick said. “We are only open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. We want our guests as well as our animals to be comfortable.”

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