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Zookeepers On Keeping Animals Safe Through Western U.S. Heat Wave


Heat is blanketing the western U.S. this weekend. California Governor Gavin Newsom signed an emergency order that allows power companies to increase output as customers retreat to air conditioning. But what if you live outside under fur or feathers? Zoo to You is a nonprofit that houses displaced or injured exotic animals and arranges educational encounters. David Jackson is the director of their campus in Paso Robles, Calif., and he joins me now.



GARCIA-NAVARRO: So how hot are we talking there?

JACKSON: Well, day before yesterday, it was 112 here at the zoo. We get the extremes here for sure.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Oh, my goodness. I mean, what kinds of animals do you house, and what special needs do they have in terms of their environment?

JACKSON: (Laughter) Yeah, everybody's different. And there's a lot of them. We have about 150 animals of many different species. And so they each have individual needs, kind of - you might want to think of them as little microclimates for each animal that we have to create in one place (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what are you doing to keep them cool? I mean, because they're, you know, normally going to be outside. How are you helping them? Give me some examples.

JACKSON: Well, the first thing is fresh clean water. You know, that's one of the things on hot days that our keepers are tasked with. They just go around literally nonstop, just making a round and then starting all over again, refreshing all of the water so that they have fresh cool water. Animals won't - if it's hot out, they won't drink warm water, you know, and they'll get dehydrated really easily. You know, like the tiger won't drink the warm water in the bucket, or the otters will, you know, not drink the water if it's warm. It's just - it is not fun to drink warm water when it's hot out.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Agreed. What other sort of special things might you be doing that aren't just about water?

JACKSON: Yeah, so we have a lot of fun with it, actually. We prepare way ahead of time for hot days, and we freeze fruit in bowls of water and meat in bowls of water. So we call them fruitsicles (ph) and meatsicles (ph), and then we pass those out. We give the - some of the animals that eat fish, you know, like the bald eagles or the otters, we give them frozen fish. And they all think that's just the greatest thing in the world on a hot day, is to eat fruitsicles and meatsicles and frozen fish. And we give out popsicles. And we have misters, and we go around and hose everybody. The birds just absolutely love just being, you know, completely hosed, just drenched. They think it's the greatest thing in the world on a hot day to just sit there like a wet rat (laughter).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What animals do you worry about the most, though, when something like this happens?

JACKSON: The animals that are from cold climates normally - for example, chinchillas comes to mind. That's an animal that comes from high in the Andes Mountains, you know, 15 to 18,000 feet up on glaciers. And so that's an animal that we absolutely must keep inside and air conditioned during hot days, during the summer, period. They come in around April, and they don't go back out again until about October.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I guess last question - I mean, have you tasted any of the popsicles yourself?

JACKSON: (Laughter) Yeah, we do share. Yeah. We were just out in the kangaroo yard a couple of days ago, and I was sharing popsicles with the kangaroos. And they all have ponds and tubs and things like that, too, that they can go into. They can crawl into and walk into and go swimming. Like, the capybara is pretty much in the water 24/7 right now.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The capybara, of course, which is from South America, Brazil.

JACKSON: Yes. Yes. Wonderful animal - my favorite. I love rodents.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) Good to know. Well, keep cool. I hope all your animals keep cool. And thank you so much for talking to us. David Jackson is a director at Zoo To You in Paso Robles, Calif.

JACKSON: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.