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Cleveland zoo helps animals keep cool amid ongoing heat wave

elephant gets wet in spray of water
Ygal Kaufman
Ideastream Public Media
Kallie, one of the elephants at the Cleveland Metropark Zoo, took advantage of a zookeeper's hose to cool off.

Several patrons were gathered at the African elephants’ enclosure as temperatures climbed to 90 degrees Thursday, watching the animals delight in the cold water from a zookeeper’s hose.

The pachyderms turned their bodies — which were dirty from spraying themselves with mud from a pool on the other side of the enclosure to keep cool — and opened their mouths to drink.

It's just one of the tactics to keep the animals cool — and safe — as a heat wave brought record-breaking temperatures to Cleveland this week.

"There are some animals that like this temperature," said Cleveland Metroparks Zoo Deputy Director Andi Kornak. "But much like, humans, you know; if I were to move to Florida from Cleveland, it would take me a while to adjust to the heat. So we can see those adjustments happen with some species with a small temperature fluctuations, but if we have a heavy temperature fluctuation, then we give them other options until they feel adjusted."

elephant gets doused with a hose
Ygal Kaufman
Ideastream Public Media
In addition to some more instinctive methods of self-cooling, elephants at the Cleveland Zoo are grateful for a hose-down from zoo staff.

Kornak said some animals have the option to stay out or go inside to seek refuge in air conditioning, but others, like gorillas, are kept inside when it’s extremely hot out.

"Much like us as humans and what we do for our pets, we may give them the choice to go outside, but we also give them the choice to be in cooler areas, either indoors or in different spaces in their, in their habitats."

For some that do opt to stay out, their habitats may actually be cooling despite the heat. For example, the zoo runs cold water through the Amur tiger and snow leopard habitats.

"We call those cooling caves," Kornak said. "So if they're laying out in that cave area, it's because cold water is being run through that. It allows them a nice cool space, even though the ambient air is very warm."

Kornak said the zoo may experience a dip in attendance during heat waves, especially midday, but some patrons will come early to see animals when they are likely to be most active. Attendance picks back up in the evening when it cools off, especially as the zoo runs its Asian Lantern Festival.

"The sweet spot isn't so much time of year; it's time of day and temperature of day," Kornak said.

And for the humans hoping to beat the heat, the zoo also offers misting stations for patrons.

Abbey Marshall covers Cleveland-area government and politics for Ideastream Public Media.