BLOOMINGTON, Ill. (WMBD) — As Central Illinoisans continue to find ways to beat the heat this week, so are the animals at Bloomington’s Miller Park Zoo and the Peoria Zoo.
Visit either zoo on a hot day and most animals will be found laying in the shade or even staying in their barns entirely.
Miller Park Zoo Superintendent, Jay Tetzloff and Peoria Zoo director Yvonne Strode, said their zookeepers are trained to notice when animals are overheating and at risk for heat-related illnesses.
“This time of year, if an animal can find shade or find a breezy area, that’s the best place to look for them,” Tetzloff said.
Heat indexes in both Bloomington and Peoria exceeded 100 degrees, urging a heightened sense of caution for zookeepers that feed, care for and maintain the animals’ living spaces.
“Some animals will give you clues, like when the wallabies start licking their arms it might mean they’re getting over-heated, so we can always step in when needed,” Tetzloff said.
Tetzloff said at Miller Park Zoo, some animals’ diets change to account for higher hydration levels. On most hot summer days, animals like the tortoises will be eating fresh fruits.
“We start feeding a little bit more of the watermelons, melons in general, things that have a little bit of moisture to them, especially for animals that don’t drink a lot of water,” Tetzloff said.
At both Miller Park Zoo and Peoria Zoo, animal enclosures are fixed with sprinklers as a place for creatures to cool off in the sun. Strode said while staff are trained to notice changes in animals, they also look out for each other and zoo guests.
“Yesterday (Monday), we did a drill actually where I grabbed one of the employees and made them faint, and then the other keepers had to respond to treat them,” Strode said.
Most animals can adapt to the heat and changing temperatures, so won’t necessarily be moved inside on hot days, but have the option if they wish.
“They can choose to come in or go out, their barns are made of nice concrete block which really can hold that nighttime temperature a little bit better,” Strode said.
Strode said most animals will lay in the shade or pant as a means to stay cool.