In Tennessee, July means scorching sun and record-breaking temperatures. At Nashville Zoo, keepers find creative ways to keep the animals cool.
The Behavioral Husbandry department at the Zoo is home to ambassador animals that are native to locations all over the world, from tropics, to mountains, to deserts. Because of the diverse climates these animals come from, ensuring the comfort of each animal during the summer is an extremely thought-through process.
One way to combat the heat, is to simply avoid it. According to Curator of Behavioral Husbandry, Jacqueline Menish, ambassador animals are kept off-exhibit, which allows their keepers to utilize creative cooling methods.
All habitats include an area of shade, whether it comes from a nearby tree or a tarp. From there, different species are given different tools to keep cool. Some animals may be surrounded by fans and frozen water bottles, while others may be periodically misted by keepers. Parrots receive ice treats filled with frozen seeds as a cooling enrichment. Other animals are given light, loose materials for bedding, which improves ventilation in their nests and allows them to be less-dense.
Inside the behavioral husbandry building, habitats are organized by climate preference. Animals that prefer warm environments are kept on one side of the building, while animals that prefer cool environments are kept on the other. The building is kept at a constant mid-range temperature, allowing keepers to regulate each habitat with fans or heat lamps, depending on what each animal needs.
“Because of the housing we have, a lot of our animals have a choice to be indoors or outdoors,” Menish said.
Most animals rely on their natural instincts to regulate their body temperature and travel between their indoor and outdoor enclosures as needed. Some animals, however, require consistent monitoring and assistance.
“Animals that may be able to handle the heat and humidity in their homelands get used to being here,” Menish said.
Visitors to the Zoo can see ambassador animals during educational shows in the Zoo’s amphitheater. There, keepers must be aware of the unseen impacts of the heat. According to Menish, the floor of the stage, as well as the mulch in the off-exhibit enclosures, can reach nearly 150 degrees.
Keepers use temperature guns to measure the temperature of spaces animals may be walking on and dump cold water on them if they reach a temperature that could put animals at risk of burns on their paws or feet.
Frequently, ambassador animals and their keepers are also stationed throughout the Zoo’s trails. Each ambassador animal has a range of temperatures, set by the behavioral husbandry department, in which they can comfortably be outdoors for educational programming. For example, a chinchilla can only be out if it is below 85 degrees, while a bearded dragon can be outside when it is anywhere between 68 and 100 degrees.
Even when it’s hot outside, thanks to the creativity of the Behavioral Husbandry department, ambassador animals can still help guests have a “cool” experience at the Zoo.