Dhirin eased around the tree, across the log and descended the hill into the cave.
There the 90-pound snow leopard with a sleek coat paused and lapped from a pool of water.
Nearby Kelele, a western lowland gorilla, sat in the shade up on a hill while holding her 6-month old son, Leom. And just a little ways away, Niki, an Indian rhinoceros, stepped down into a mud wallow.
All around the Oklahoma City Zoo, animals were keeping cool, but moving about on a recent day where the maximum temperature was 93 degrees, matching the normal high in the metro area for that day.
This comes after normal was not the norm in the past two summers.
“The animals are a lot more active when it's nicer out,” said Jennifer D'Agostino, director of veterinarian services at the zoo. “I think this year the animals have certainly enjoyed the nicer weather.
“We provide them with lots of opportunities of water, ice treats and misting systems or going inside so that they can choose the best option for the day.”
Although the animals come from around the globe and different climates, many have been choosing to go outside this summer, as opposed to the two recent summers, D'Agostino said.
In 2011, Oklahoma City had 61 days of triple-digit temperatures. The previous record for the city was 50 days in 1980. Last year, the temperature in Oklahoma City reached or topped 110 degrees on the first three days of August, including a record-tying 113 on Aug. 3, matching the mark of Aug. 11, 1936.
This summer, there were 11 days in July in which Oklahoma City's high temperature was below 90. That included 78 degrees on July 15. And from Aug. 13-19, the highs were all in the 80s.
Regardless of the somewhat gentler summer, zoo officials continue to closely monitor Oklahoma's weather forecast.
“Really the weather can change drastically day-to-day or within the same day,” said D'Agostino, who has worked at the zoo for 10 years. “We have had times where the temperature shifted 30 degrees in one day. So we're always prepared for that and we have a lot of accommodations where we can be very flexible with the animals. That way, they can have access inside to a building.”
And there are many ways to keep them cool while they are outside.
One involves simple instructions: Just add ice.
Frozen treats are among the cooling processes used in the summer.
Take the snow leopards for example. D'Agostino said those at the zoo will take a fish, “put it in a container of water and freeze it and make a fishsicle.”
“That way the snow leopards have to lick the ice to get to the fish,” she said. “They'll do that for a lot of the cats.”
When it's hot, fruits and vegetables are frozen in a five-gallon bucket of water for the gorillas and they have to break the ice apart to get the food out. So they are getting cooled off in the process.
Zoo spokeswoman Tara Henson said that even with the less extreme heat, staff members continue to provide such summer treats.
Not just cooler
In areas of Oklahoma, it's still been a hot summer as Altus and Grandfield have each had more than 30 days of triple digits. And in some areas it's still dry. The U.S. Drought Monitor report on Thursday showed 33 percent of the state continuing to battle drought, primarily in the Panhandle and western Oklahoma.
But that's not the case in Oklahoma City. The city remains on a pace to have its wettest year on record, with 45.19 inches recorded through Friday, said Gary McManus of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.
So it's been cooler, but also wetter than the last couple of summers.
“We do a lot of work with our horticulture staff,” D'Agostino said. “Because with your dog or your cat, you can put the flea and tick medication on them every month, very easily. Well we can't do that with all of our animals for obvious reasons. Some are dangerous animals.
“So we do a lot more exhibit-type maintenance or yard maintenance and we do put some applications down so that our animals are not bothered by the fleas and ticks.”
She said they haven't had problems with either this summer.
“And I'm surprised the mosquitoes aren't worse than what they are but we are we are very diligent at the zoo about preventing standing water,” D'Agostino said.
When snow fell in Oklahoma City on Feb. 12, Dhirin was out walking around. In the wild, snow leopards like Dhirin live in a cold, mountainous environment such as the Himalayas in Asia, D'Agostino said.
But he's been in Oklahoma City for some time and is “fairly well adapted to the warmer climate.”
“Still we make sure there is a constant supply of fresh cool water for them to drink and other options for keeping cool,” D'Agostino said. “We watch the animals and we watch the Oklahoma weather.”