When it’s warm out, Asheville residents can stay cool by swimming at a public pool, tubing down the French Broad river, or visiting a local ice cream shop. But how do the animals at the WNC Nature Center beat the heat during the summer months?
All of the animals at the Nature Center are native, or were once native, to the Southern Appalachian region. This means they have the advantage of being used to the climate in which they reside. However, for those extra hot days, the keepers at the WNC Nature Center have a number of ways to help keep the animals cool.
We aren’t the only ones who enjoy a popsicle on a hot day! Our keepers will prepare homemade popsicles containing special treats specific to whatever that individual animal enjoys. For example, our otters receive popsicles containing trout and sardines, while our black bears enjoy popsicles containing watermelon chunks, blueberries, and strawberries! While the idea of a rat popsicle may not sound appetizing, our cougar will lick an ice block containing a frozen rat!
While popsicles are a fun enrichment, too many treats are not good for our animals. That’s why each animal habitat contains a Nelson automatic waterer (pictured above with our gray foxes). Nelsons are a patented water bowl connected to a hose that is durable enough to withstand a black bear, and provides fresh, flowing water year round. In the summer, the water stays cold, and in the winter, the water never freezes. During the summer, animal keepers and our maintenance crew also work hard to prepare the animal exhibits that have water features. The otters, wolves, and black bears can often be seen splashing in their pools. Animal keepers will often place toys in the animals’ pools throughout the day to encourage them to take a swim when it’s hot.
If you have ever visited the WNC Nature Center, you may have noticed that the park layout mimics a leisurely hike through our mountains. The paths are hilly and shaded with native plant life. The habitats at the Nature Center have also been designed to mimic the natural spaces of Southern Appalachia since the species that reside here used to call these mountains home. That means lots and lots of shade! Each habitat has not only lots of natural shade, but also a structure that allows the animals to take shelter if they need a break from visitors, or if they get too hot.
If you would like to see how our animals stay cool in the summer months, be sure to visit when we first open. The cool mornings are when the animals are most active. If you want to visit us when it’s coolest, consider purchasing a membership. Members are allowed to enter the park early at 9:30am! Learn more about becoming a member at www.wildwnc.org/membership.