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Zoo has tricks to beat this beastly heat

David L. Ryan/Globe Staff Bertha, one of Franklin Park Zoo’s ostriches, took a break in the misting fan as Boston temperatures hit the triple digits.
David L. Ryan/Globe Staff
Bertha, one of Franklin Park Zoo’s ostriches, took a break in the misting fan as Boston temperatures hit the triple digits. (David L. Ryan/Globe Staff)
By David Filipov
Globe Staff / July 7, 2010

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Beverly the kea pecked at an apple juice ice treat. Ernie the ostrich bathed in a mist bath evocative of an oasis resort. And a special summer delight awaited the ferocious big cats: Popsicle-esque concoctions made of frozen blood.

With temperatures tickling triple digits, Franklin Park zookeepers spent yesterday lavishing heat-fighting indulgences on the furry and the feathered.

Many of the animals at the zoo are adapted to survive scorchers, and others stayed in climate-controlled exhibits. But, as with humans, even the well-adapted can succumb to the heat, meaning zookeepers need to keep an eye on all their animals.

“If the animal is unsteady on its feet or its gait seems a little wobbly, we know something is wrong,’’ said John Piazza, curator of mammals for Zoo New England. The Franklin Park Zoo has such amenities as “shade structures’’ for giraffes and self-filling water cans for zebras.

For Christopher the lion and Luther the tiger, relief can come in the form of bloodsicles — the frozen treat made from blood. The gory goodies sometimes are as large as five gallons, Piazza said.

“It’s a summertime treat,’’ he said.

Less visceral, no less earthy, were the frozen concoctions doled out to other creatures.

The pottos — small, nocturnal primates from west and central Africa — enjoyed a frozen banana. The cotton-top tamarins, small primates found in Colombia, munched on bugs and carrots in little ice cubes. And some homo sapiens — people visiting the zoo — thermoregulated under a large tree, slurping down ice cream.

“It’s animal nature just to get in the shade,’’ said Piazza, who, having lived in Texas, thinks of 100 degrees as “a cold day.’’

Even the animals most acclimated to high heat do not turn up their beaks, snouts, or muzzles at the chance to chill out.

“Just because animals are used to being hot doesn’t mean they won’t take advantage of something cool,’’ Piazza observed, as Ernie, a bird born to bear the heat of the African savanna, sat contentedly under the chill drizzle of a mister. Two other ostriches, Bertha and Bud, lingered nearby, waiting their turn for refreshment, occasionally panting through their beaks.

Some creatures avoid the heat altogether.

Emily and Snickers, tree kangaroos from New Guinea, live in a climate-controlled exhibit where temperatures are kept in the 70s and humidity in the 50s. Yesterday, they were curled up in an afternoon siesta. Not bad for a life in captivity.

Christopher the lion found a dark, cool place to nap, under an overhang of synthetic rock.

“You see people walking around in the sun,’’ Piazza said. “Animals have it right: Why waste the calories?’’

The keas, a type of parrot native to New Zealand, can grow a layer of fat to fend off extreme cold, and they like to play in snow, according to zookeeper Jess Horenstein. But they do not mind extreme heat. They also are far more curious than most birds.

“These guys love anything new in their environment,’’ Horenstein said.

As a result, Beverly, Jean-Luc, and Kirk will try lots of things that their keepers offer to augment their regular diet of dog chow, parrot pellets, vegetables, and eggs.

So when the apple juice ice treats arrived at lunch yesterday, it was as though the ice cream truck had pulled up. Beverly looked up from her meal, intrigued. Jean-Luc hopped over for a closer look. And Kirk jumped in and started eating.

“They are super smart,’’ Horenstein said as the birds pecked at their frozen feast. “If they realize ‘Hey, this is cooling me off,’ they will keep eating it.’’

David Filipov can be reached at filipov@globe.com.

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