The Heat is On

Summer is in full swing, and with it comes higher temperatures. Detroit Zoological Society staff ensure the animals who live at the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Center are comfortable, regardless of what the thermometer says.

In some cases, this means giving animals the choice to either remain in their outdoor habitat or venture inside when temperatures soar. Think about how great you feel when you come into an air-conditioned building after spending time outside! But should they choose to remain outdoors, we ensure their habitats always incorporate multiple areas where the animals can find shade. The amount and location of the shaded areas change with the sun’s movement, and that stimulates the animals to move around in order to thermoregulate, just as they would in the wild. For example, you can often find the lions resting in the alcoves in the wall of their habitat, and built-in caves will serve a similar purpose in the soon-to-open Devereaux Tiger Forest. The pool on the polar bears’ “pack ice” side of the Arctic Ring of Life is even chilled!

For many of the animals, such as the eland, deer, ostrich and flamingos, animal care staff set up sprinklers and misters that can be moved around to create cool areas. Staff also make wallows for the rhinos, who cool down by covering themselves in mud. You may even see some animals enjoying “popsicles”, made by freezing pieces of fruit and vegetables or even fish, depending on the species. Keeping the animals both comfortable and stimulated is part of ensuring great welfare.

These practices are meant to not only keep the animals comfortable, but safe as well. Humans can suffer from serious heat-related issues, and the same is true for other animals. My dog really loves to go for long walks; however, during the summer, we make more of an effort to stay off the pavement and asphalt, and to walk in the shade whenever possible. Dogs don’t sweat to cool off like we do; they cool themselves through their foot pads and by panting, and pavement can heat up to 140 degrees when it is only 80 degrees outside. I also make sure to bring plenty of water with me for both of us!

My dog also enjoys going for car rides, but we have to remember that leaving any animal in a car that isn’t running can be very dangerous. Temperatures inside a parked car can rise very quickly, so leaving our animal companions at home in these instances is safer. It is our responsibility to keep the animals in our care safe, healthy and happy, whether they live at the Zoo or in our homes.

– Dr. Stephanie Allard is the director of animal welfare for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Center for Zoo and Aquarium Animal Welfare and Ethics.