Ice cream, frozen fruit keep Rio zoo animals cool in heatwave

RIO DE JANEIRO (AFP) - Ice cream, fruit and copious helpings of frozen meat helped keep the sweltering inhabitants of Rio's zoo cool on Tuesday as temperatures soared.

Zoo staff handed out the treats as the thermometer touched 40 deg C.

Chimpanzee Paulinho bagged two ice creams before bounding off to seek shade, while orangutan Else and daughter Tanga gobbled an assortment of fruit.

Carla the elephant wolfed down 50kg of ice cream dragged in by its handler, while Gabi, an eight-year-old jaguar, preferred to slurp on a hunk of frozen meat.

"The animals have a problem with the heat like all of us - sunstroke, dehydration, apathy. So we are taking measures to deal with the problems the heat can generate," zookeeper Karla Cunha told AFP.

The zoo has spent weeks preparing stocks of frozen food for the hot and sticky weather, which assails Rio this time of year, high summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

The zoo also must ensure the animals have access to water - via pools or sprinklers. Meanwhile, vegetation is left untrimmed to ensure maximum shade.

Providing cool meals "refreshes the animal and stimulates memory function, as well as the palate," Ms Cunha said.

She noted that some of the meat-eaters, notably the tiger, lie on top of the meat as an additional means of keeping cool.

Watching Gabi the jaguar take a pre-lunch pool dip, visitor Aline Montez wished she could join.

"Look how cool he is over there, while we're here baking in the heat," Ms Montez quipped.