Well summer is here again, and along with it comes the heat. For our guests watching at home, and especially for our guests present at the exhibit, we know that spotting the bears can occasionally be a challenge. Please be assured, that our staff wants you to see our animals, but that our animals ability to thrive does come first. Recently as we have had a couple of heat waves the pandas have been given access to air conditioned bedrooms, and they choose to use them as they see fit. All of our animals at the zoo have protocols in place to ensure that there is a way for them to cool off. This is also where our keepers get to have fun with enrichment that we give to them.
One thing that the pandas enjoy are their ice treats homemade by our staff! Keepers will sometimes get a bucket of water, add pureed apple or sweet potato, chunks of treats and maybe some crystal light, they then freeze it overnight and let the bears have it when it begins to heat up. We want our guests to have the best opportunity to see the bears, but we also have to make sure that the animals are not in distress. In many cases keepers will allow the bear access to their bedroom, and then also add the ice treats as an enticement to stay on exhibit. All animals at the zoo are given choices to ensure that they are making choices for themselves. Our keepers work very hard to make the exhibits the choice place for our animals. Much of our time is making new enrichment for animals, and even moving animal furniture around to change it up for the animals.
Another useful tool that our keepers have available is an ice machine! As someone that has worked as a keeper in many areas, I can’t tell you how handy it is having an ice machine just for enrichment. Keepers have enough ice to fill a trash can and fill the bears pool with ice water, or sometimes just giving them a pile of ice in the dirt for them to roll around on.
So as you watch Panda Cam in the coming weeks, and as you plan visits to the Zoo, know that through this heat we endeavor to ensure the quality of your visits, but also our animals well being. Hope to see you soon and happy panda watching!
Anastasia Jonilionis is a panda narrator and keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous blog, Summer Pandas.