Keeping Animals Hydrated in Hot Summer Months with Elmwood Park Zoo

A little bird told us that Pet Hydration Month is officially in full swing. We’re continuing to have some fun while learning about just how important it is for all animals, big or small, to get enough water.

Throughout the month of July, we have special guests and animal experts lined up to offer advice about keeping pets and other animals as hydrated as possible.

This week, we spoke to Hannah Fullmer, Lead Keeper and Behavioral Husbandry Coordinator at the Elmwood Park Zoo, about the intricacies of keeping zoo animals happy and hydrated. Read our interview below!

Q: As humans, we’re supposed to drink at least eight glasses of water a day. With so many animals to look after, how do you determine how much water each one needs?

A: Not a lot is known about exact amounts of water that some animals need, as it can be hard to measure in the wild. We do know that some animals have developed special ways to deal with living in a dry environment or when access to water is limited. Giraffes are one example; they have specialized kidneys that absorb more water from their food so they don’t have to drink as often or as much as you would think. Also, while kangaroos don’t sweat to cool off like we do, they actually will lick their forearms until they are soaked. As that evaporates, their bodies cool down.

What about reptilian and amphibian zoo animals? How do their hydration needs differ from some of the other animals?

Our reptiles are on a soaking schedule. Most of them are soaked every other week, which helps with their water absorption from their cloacae. Amphibians are misted on a daily basis because their skin actually helps them absorb water as well.

What are some of the techniques you use to make sure water is always accessible when needed? How does the watering system work?

A watering system that is used in many zoos is called a Nelson Waterer or automatic waterer. They are built on a counterbalance system and hook up directly to a water line so that the animal is never without water. Most of our animals have exhibits that are built with these systems. We let the animals self-hydrate since they know themselves best. For exhibits that are smaller and may not fit a water system or have access to a water line, we offer buckets of water or bowls.

Hydration becomes more important than ever during the summertime. What extra measures are taken to keep the animals safe and healthy during the warmer months?

When temperatures climb high, zookeepers know to monitor animals extra closely. We prepare ice blocks, frozen treats, misting systems and extra water bowls and buckets. We will use hoses and misters to make mud wallows for some of our larger hoof stock like the elk, who can often be seen drinking from the misters instead of letting the water turn into a pool of mud. 

What signs do you look for to know whether an animal is hydrated enough or needs extra attention to its hydration levels?

A lot of animals will show signs of dehydration similar to a human: pale, grey and tacky gums, tented or stiff skin and lethargy.

Finally, when designing a new habitat for an animal to call home, how much of an effect do their water needs have on shaping the exhibit? What do you take into consideration?

We take natural history into consideration when developing new exhibits and creating features, such as wallows and water systems. We recently developed a new exhibit for our jaguars, which we know are water-loving cats. We made sure to develop the exhibit with a large, easily cleaned, easily accessible water feature. This way, the jaguars can submerge themselves in the stream, wade and drink at their leisure. We use a UV cleaning system so that there won’t be chemicals in the water, and we test the water in our exhibits regularly.

The otter pool, on the other hand, does receive some chlorination because as a species, otters tend to defecate in water. We know to also offer them potable water in their exhibits. We manage their system to have a chlorination that’s lower than the lowest allowed standard for human swimming pools.

Thanks, Hannah! We love learning about all the creatures who live in our communities and how important water is to a happy and hydrated way of life. Check back soon for more conversations and hydration advice from the experts.

Don’t forget to share photos of your pets playing with, drinking or bathing in water on our Facebook or Twitter pages. We’ll pick our favorites and share them throughout the month!

Photos courtesy of Elmwood Park Zoo

 

 

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