Zoo animals keep it cool

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Alpacas sport a new hairdo Thursday at Hillcrest Park Zoo. Zookeeper Mark Yanotti said the pair were sheared recently to remove their heavy winter wool.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

Shade, misters, dipping pools and extreme hair cuts are but a few of the ways Hillcrest Park Zoo helps animals deal with the heat.

But according to zookeeper Mark Yanotti, the animals are acclimatized enough to the High Plains that it’s zoo visitors who need to keep in mind the high temperatures.

“Most of these animals are indigenous and it doesn’t really torture them to be out in the heat,” he said.

“Most of our animals kind of like the heat.”

The exotic animals at the zoo hail from places such as Africa, South America, Mexico and other hot climate zones. And many zoo residents have either been raised in the Southwest or spent their whole lives at the zoo, Yanotti said.

Animals will lounge or nap during the hottest part of the day, he said, often seeking shade or taking advantage of misting systems in some of the cages.

In mornings and evenings when temperatures are a little cooler animals are more energetic, playing in their pools and showing more life, he said.

“They’re not going to jump around when it’s hot,” he said. They have more sense than that, unlike human kids,” he said with a smile.

Thursday afternoon, zoogoers Gregory Carter, Ryan Mares, and Joseph Buckmaster, took advantage of a drinking fountain, manipulating the high-rising water jet so it sprayed on them.

Dripping wet, the trio of 12-year-olds all with big smiles on their faces, said they were enjoying the zoo.

Humans need to keep cool while they visit, Yanotti said, making sure to drink plenty and ducking into the shade once in a while to cool down from the sun’s heat.

Some like it hot:

Blondie the tiger has a swimming pool but only uses it in the mornings and late afternoons, preferring instead to lounge in a shady spot of grass through the heat of the day.

Black bear cubs Bailey and Willow have a pool complete with toys and shade trees, but if there are people around, they spend their time close to the crowds. “The bears get more interested in the public,” Yanotti said.

A newly arrived pair of Asian otters have a large pool, but seem scared of it and prefer playing in their provided water buckets. “They haven’t used (the pool) yet,” Yanotti said.

Bobcats Sharon, Ozzy, Kelly and Amy drape across branches in the shade and take advantage of constant, cooling misters in their pen.

A troupe of spider monkeys swings from ropes, climb and play throughout the day. “They’re from South America, so it’s right up their alley,” Yanotti said.

Alpacas Gabriel and Tidalwave got hair cuts recently. Yanotti said after being sheared of their hot, dense wool, the two are a little timid and are staying in their shelter more but seem lighter on their feet.