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Brandywine Zoo works to help its animals beat the heat

People aren’t the only one looking for relief during Delaware’s first heat wave of the summer.  Animals are also trying to beat the heat. 

And while pet owners are asked to keep an eye on their animals – and not leave them outdoors or in cars – the job is more complicated at the Brandywine Zoo in Wilmington.

The zoo is home to a wide variety of animals from various climates – including some not accustomed to this sweltering weather.

Brandywine Zoo director Gene Peacock says one example is the zoo’s red pandas, which come from the much cooler mountainous regions of China and Tibet.

“For our red pandas, they actually have in back, off exhibit where the public can’t see it, their own air conditioner.  So, we’ll turn the air conditioner on and it cools that whole back area for them.  There’s a [mist machine] in the exhibit, because just misting the exhibit, you’d be amazed how much that brings the temperature down.  And we also have a series of big fans at the top of the exhibit," said Peacock. "So we do that for the pandas.”

Peacock adds other animals get similar relief from air conditioners, mist machines and fans, along with shade covers on their cages and sprinklers.  River otters even get piles of ice to help cool them off.

Peacock says its all part of individualized plans the zoo has for each animal, tailored to what they need and when as the mercury rises.

“All of our animals actually have a temperature guideline keepers go by. And then when it gets too hot, we know when we need to turn on the misters and when we need to give them access [time in air conditioned space behind an exhibit]," said Peacock. S"o we actually have well-planned out, researched guidlelines as for as the animals go for that.”

Peacock adds some animals actually enjoy the heat.  He says the zoo’s condors will seek shade when it’s really hot, but can also be found spreading their wings to sun them a bit in the morning or late afternoon.

The zoo remains open for business during the heat and keeps an eye on its human visitors, reminding them to stay hydrated and use the mist machine provided for them.  Peacock says you may miss some animals trying to avoid the heat, but the zoo seeks ways to make animals available for viewing.

"We'll do some creative things with the animals that the public can see and enjoy.  It's called enrichment and its part of the animals' daily lives,"  said Peacock. " But when we get into the really high heat days, we'll do things like make ice blocks with food treats frozen in them and give them to the animals."

Peacock also notes the heat can be hard on the staff that take care of the animals, but thinks it's a bit less challenging than caring for the animals during the winter.

"When it's hot, you're going to sweat, but you can duck inside, get cool and then go do something," said Peacock. "But in the winter, like this past March, we'd have snow and then ice and it makes it hard to get round the zoo."

Tom Byrne has been a fixture covering news in Delaware for three decades. He joined Delaware Public Media in 2010 as our first news director and has guided the news team ever since. When he's not covering the news, he can be found reading history or pursuing his love of all things athletic.
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