Zoo animals get iced treats as Brazil swelters
By Jenny Barchfield, AP, Jan 8, 2014
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP)—Sure, it’s mind-bogglingly cold in the Northern Hemisphere. But the sweltering weather on the opposite end of the Earth has man and beast alike dreaming of ice.
Brazil is sizzling, and with the heat index sometimes soaring above 120 F, keepers at the Rio de Janeiro zoo are giving the animals ice pops to beat the heat.
The homemade treats come in various flavors. For the big cats, there are bloody, 66-pound (30-kilo) blocks of ice and raw meat. There are bucket-sized cornucopias of iced fruit for Ze Comeia, a brown bear rescued from a circus, and a supply of chilled bananas for Karla the elephant.
The simians’ treats, strawberry or mango-flavored frozen yogurt pops on sticks, looked the most appealing to the crowds of human visitors who stood Wednesday in the blazing sun and 94-degree weather to gape at the apes.
The apes couldn’t get enough. Paulinho the chimpanzee reached long, leathery fingers through the bars to snatch a strawberry-flavored treat from zookeeper Karla Cunha’s hand, then gobbled it down. He then delicately handed the stick back through the bars—a trick he’s learned wins another ice pop.
The felines were less polite. Simba the 14-year-old lion and Neto, a 10-year-old Siberian tiger, put sandpaper tongues and pointy canines to work on giant bloodsicles, using oversized paws to hold the slick blocks of iced meat in place. Simba growled as a photographer got too close, and the crowd of cellphone photo-snapping visitors recoiled.
Ze Comeia the bear used his back paws to grasp a giant tutti-frutti ice block that he licked while bobbing on his back in a wading pool. While one zookeeper sprayed Koala the 45-year-old female elephant with a garden hose, another placed banana after banana into her mouth.
"This is their favorite time of day," said Cunha, the zoo’s dietitian. "In addition to cooling the animals down on days like this where the heat is downright unbearable, it’s also fun and keeps them active."
With just weak water misters and wading pools to provide the animals with relief, icy treats are added to the zoo’s menu when temperatures hit the mid-80s, Cunha said.
Zookeepers have been handing out nearly 100 of the frozen snacks daily during the heat wave that has seen temperatures soar above the mid-90s for about 10 straight days. The apes alone consume around 70 of the snacks per day, with the fruit and yogurt-blends in highest demand.
"Frozen yogurt is very popular this year," said Cunha. "They just go crazy for it."
The heat wave extended to neighboring Argentina, where hundreds of dead fish floated in a lake in the capital of Buenos Aires. Catfish and shad were the most affected. Alejandro Perez, director of the 3 de Febrero Park where the dead fish were found floating, said the high temperatures had stolen oxygen from the water life.
Temperatures that have risen to more than 90 F in the Southern Hemisphere summer have also sparked street protests in Argentina over electricity outages.
Meteorologist Fabio Rocha of Brazil’s federal weather service said the heat wave was not a mirror opposite and in no way related to the polar vortex punishing the U.S. and other northern nations.