Worm slushies, frozen fruit, and sprinklers: how animals at Barcelona Zoo beat the heat

Caretakers had to bring protocol for dealing with high temperatures forward as early as May

Zoo keepers cool an elephant down in summer by spraying it with water at Barcelona Zoo (by Natàlia Segura)
Zoo keepers cool an elephant down in summer by spraying it with water at Barcelona Zoo (by Natàlia Segura) / ACN

ACN | Barcelona

August 8, 2022 03:35 PM

Soaring temperatures and punishing levels of humidity have Barcelona residents and visitors suffering in the heat and searching for shade to cool down this summer. However, humans are not the only ones dealing with the heat, as animals at Barcelona Zoo are also finding new ways to find relief from the intense warmth.

The Zoo has been forced to bring the protocol to combat the heat forward this summer to protect the animals. Faced with the high temperatures, zoo keepers had to implement extraordinary measures in May to alleviate the effects. 

For example, they feed meerkats with slushies made of worms, change the water in the bathing areas more frequently so the water is cooler, and use sprinklers to refresh the animals. "The truth is, the animals appreciate it," says the zoo's head of mammals, Pilar Padilla.

The zoo itself manufactures broth, yogurts, and frozen fruit that are fed to the animals. "We have protocols for both hot and cold seasons to ensure that the animals are well at all times," assures the director of the Barcelona Zoo, Antoni Alarcón, claiming that one of its main goals is to "maintain the highest possible welfare" for animals.

The most elaborate method to combat the heat is the worm slushie. It’s made by mixing larvae with ice cubes, and the keepers offer them to the meerkats. The animals have to suck up the liquid to get at the worms, meaning they become better hydrated.

The animals that feel the heat the worst are those that are more familiar with colder climates, such as the European bison, the red panda, and the deer, Padilla explains. According to her, otters and hippos, which are "already quite aquatic," can also suffer from the heat and, therefore, the keepers try to ensure that they always have fresh water available.

Alarcón has not considered changing the type of species they keep at the zoo to adapt to the increasing temperatures seen in recent years. Currently, they have about 260 species and about 1,700 animals. Alarcón says that the priority is "working with species in danger of extinction or in a certain degree of vulnerability." 

"The bison is very important because there is talk in Spain about its possible reintroduction and, therefore, we have to ensure their well-being as much as possible."

Barcelona Zoo: obsolete or essential?

Last November, we published an episode of our podcast, Filling the Sink, examining the uses of Barcelona Zoo in modern times. In it, we asked if the facility is an antidote to decreasing biodiversity or in need of major reform?

City legislation from 2019 backed by Zoo XXI brought conflicting views to the fore. Read the full report on Barcelona Zoo here.