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Keeping the animals cool at St. Louis Zoo

ST. LOUIS – If we are wilting away in the summer heat, what about wild animals? Or the ones that reside in Forest Park at the St. Louis Zoo?

“If you look in some of our areas, you’ll see there are shades that we’ve put up,” says Steve Bircher, Curator of Mammals St. Louis Zoo. “We have misters for the animals that will spray into the habitat. We have misters along the pathway for our visitors.”

Animal enclosures had access to soak up a spray.

“When it’s up over 90 degrees and many of our buildings are cooled, so the animals have the choice: they can go inside or they can stay outside on exhibit,” Bircher says.

The wild Somali ass was vocal about the triple digit temperature Thursday afternoon. Hailing from Ethiopia, this animal can handle the heat.

But what about Kali polar bear?

“He doesn’t feel heat the same way we do and he doesn’t feel cold,” says Bircher. “Many of our animals do really well in both heat and cold and I can tell you that the pools are kept about 65 degrees. They’re chilled pools. We do the same things with the sea lions and seals. He also has access to his air conditioned building the door is open.”

It’s 65 degrees in that building, but Kali polar bear chose to stay outdoors. Maybe it was to be near the discreet ice machine built into his outdoor area that drops ice every 15 minutes, producing about 800 pounds every day.

And while the ostrich sought out some shade, the nearby elephants didn’t seem to mind the heat.

“They flap those ears and the air moves across those ears where the blood vessels are and it helps to cool them,” Bircher says. “Some animals will pant. They lose the moisture through their tongue. They lose their moisture through their tongue. Some will sweat through their pads.”

During the hotter parts of summer, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the zoo offers earlier starting times at 8 a.m. Keepers say both animals and visitors have more energy in early hours.