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Monday, July 2, 2018

Ice, Ice Baby

It was a scorcher today, creeping into the triple digits.  When it gets this hot, the zoo isn't always a fun place to be, and a lot of effort goes into keeping the animals cool and comfortable.  For some species that means erecting shade structures or making mud wallows or putting up sprinklers to mist the animals.

One of the most popular techniques for keeping zoo animals comfortable during the heat is surprisingly similar to one that humans use on themselves.  Who doesn't love a nice Popsicle?

Kazuhiro Nogi/ AFP Getty Images - Polar Bear at Ueno Zoo

Of course, the Popsicles that zookeepers make for their charges are a little different than the ones that you'll find in the frozen food section of your local grocery store.  The flavors and ingredients vary from species to species.  For monkeys and other frugivores, fruit juice forms a nice base, along with whole pieces of fruits or nuts frozen inside.  For big cats and other carnivores, the frozen base may be blood, or perhaps fish juice.  Meat-based items, such as rats, rabbits, or whole fish may be frozen inside.  Sometimes, the treat is simply formed from plain water with food items inside.  The size of the ice treat may vary in size from an ice cube to the size of a barrel.

Ice treats have value besides being cool and (depending on your taste for frozen blood) delicious.  Freezing food items inside a large block of ice can pose a fun enrichment challenge for animals - how to extract the treat from inside?  Break it open?  Lick at it?  Simply wait for it to thaw on its own?  There is the added enjoyment factor that ice floats, making the Popsicle double-function as an enjoyable pool toy.

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