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Splishing and Splashing: Zoo Residents Keep Cool

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ASHEBORO — The North Carolina Zoological Park is one of the state's hottest attractions. During the summer, the hot weather can make the visit challenging for man and beast, especially for the animals who are stuck in year-round fur coats.

Hundreds tour the zoo everyday to peak into the habitats of many species. Behind the scenes, zookeepers are doing their best to keep the animals cool.

"The heat will slow them down a good bit," says Guy Lichty, mammals manager. "You'll find them getting lazy as it gets hotter."

Elephants are given frozen treats like huge blocks of ice with apples. They crush it with their feet and scoop up the cool snack with their trunks. Zookeepers admit there's little that can be done for animals this size.

"They have these big ears that act as radiators to keep them cooled off," Lichty explains. "They'll cover themselves with mud and water to keep themselves cooled off that way."

Smaller animals in the touch and learn center are provided fans in each stall. Rabbits often snuggle close to bottles of frozen water to keep cool. Pigs are often coaxed with food into a pool.

"Our pigs here don't have sweat glands, so they can't sweat like we can," says zookeeper Amy Cubbin. "So we have to keep a pool for them. That's why pigs like mud to lay down in it. They do that to cool off."

Seals and sea lions swim in 68-degree water. A shade screen covers the pool.

The reason for constructing shade structures over the exhibit of the seals and sea lions is pretty much the same reason why human beings wear sunglasses-- to protect their eyes from the rays of the sun.

Polar Bears are considered the stars of the show. Zookeepers say the large marine mammals enjoy having fun in the sun. When it's really hot, they have an air conditioned area to cool off. But they really enjoy frolicking in the water, taking a leisurely swim to chill out in the heat of the day.

Zookeepers say the animals often stay in the shade in the middle of the day. Zookeepers advise the best time to see the animals is by visiting the zoo early or later in the day.


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