Keeping Cool

Animals & Gardens

June 30, 2022

Summer in Chicago brings blooming flowers and sunny days, along with a spike in temperatures. What goes into caring for species at the zoo during the warmest months of the year? 

Every day of the year, Lincoln Park Zoo prioritizes choice and control when it comes to animal welfare and high-quality care. Animals at the zoo have the choice to spend time in climate-controlled behind-the-scenes spaces and may choose to do so when temperatures are warm. Some species at the zoo, like giraffes, zebras, and rhinos, tend to enjoy the heat and can be frequently spotted outdoors on a hot, summer day. Like any species, individuals may have different preferences as well, so it is important to provide options for each animal’s individual wellbeing. 

Photo courtesy of Jesse Leinwand.

Habitats at the zoo are designed and constructed with temperature fluctuations in mind. The new state-of-the-art lion habitat at Pepper Family Wildlife Center features multiple thermal areas that offer additional heat at chillier times and coolness in the hotter months. The thermal areas are located in the shade and include a vent that blows cool air in the summer months. Pride Rock, a favored spot for the lions to lounge, features an overhead vent that provides cool air. With these unique features in place at Pepper Family Wildlife Center, members of the pride are able to choose where they spend their time based on their specific needs and desires. 

Over at Walter Family Arctic Tundra, polar bears Siku and Talini have access to indoor air-conditioned spaces, indoor and outdoor temperature-controlled dive pools, a stream, a cooling ice cave, and piles of ice created by an ice machine to elicit foraging and digging behaviors. In the summer months, the dive pools are maintained at around 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Regenstein Macaque Forest features a hot spring, running stream, and microclimates to provide the monkeys with various temperature choices. During Chicago’s chilly winters, hot rocks and the hot spring are heated and can provide warmth as the monkeys choose. In the summertime, the hot spring temperature is lowered and offers a place for the macaques to cool down.  

Animal Care staff may also institute supplemental measures, like turning on sprinklers in animal habitats, providing animals special ice treats that include portions of their diets inside, or otherwise providing water- and ice-based enrichment. Keepers have access to a flake ice machine for animal enrichment and make use of it year-round. 

Each species at the zoo has scientifically-informed temperature guidelines that Animal Care and Veterinary staff update each year. These guidelines ensure the animals in our care are provided appropriate indoor and outdoor access as temperatures and weather fluctuate.  

Lincoln Park Zoo prioritizes individual well-being and works hard to ensure the species at the zoo are comfortable throughout the year. On your next zoo visit, observe how animals at the zoo are choosing to spend their time—whether it’s diving into a temperature-controlled pool, lounging in the shade, or seeking privacy in a behind-the-scenes space.