Heat: Oregon Zoo takes steps to keep people, animals comfortable
For a person with shelter and access to air conditioning, triple-digit summer heat of the sort the Portland area is expected to see this week might not be so bad.
But when you spend most of your time outside, as many animals at the Oregon Zoo do, 100-plus degrees is no joke. That's why zoo staff have special protocols for when the Portland area's summer heat soars to extreme levels.
Laura Weiner, senior keeper of the Africa section at the zoo, pointed to steps that zookeepers take to ensure there are plenty of ways for animals to stay cool.
"We're doing our best to make them as comfortable as possible, just like all of us are trying to stay as comfortable as possible on these really hot days," Weiner said.
One benefit for many zoo animals on high-temperature days: special icy treats. Weiner said the zoo will often serve up frozen meals, such as what she calls "bloodsicles" for some of the zoo's carnivores.
Some water-loving animals, like otters, polar bears and seals, enjoy an ice bath to beat the heat.
"We will get lots of ice from the ice machines and dump them into kind of a kiddie pool that's big enough for the animals to get into," said Weiner.
Pachyderms — elephants, hippopotamuses and rhinoceroses — enjoy being hosed down, Weiner said. The zoo's Elephant Lands habitat, which opened in late 2015, also features a 160,000-gallon pool in which the big animals can bathe and cool down.
The Oregon Zoo also relies on a time-tested countermeasure for heat you might see at festivals, food cart pods and outdoor markets.
"One of the biggest things we do is we have lots of misters everywhere," Weiner said. Hoses with misting attachments spray fine droplets of water into the air, cooling it. The misters are set up for animals and guests alike, she added.
While many still brave the heat, some of both the zoo's residents and visitors prefer to stay inside on extremely hot days.
"On these hot days, because the temperatures are so high, there is a possibility that some of the animals may be off exhibit," Weiner said. Some might be in their "house," away from the sun; others might be in their exhibit but sheltered in a dark, secluded spot to stay comfortable.
Attendance at the zoo is usually lower on very hot days than it is when the weather is more temperate, Weiner said. Still, she remarked, "There's actually a lot of people that are quite troopers."
The zoo is open from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Washington Park MAX station underground near the zoo is in service, but trains will run at slower speeds when temperatures are above 90 degrees, TriMet said.
By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor, The Times