Greek Zoo Serves Up Frozen Meals to Help Animals Beat the Heat

Extreme temperatures and wildfires have ravaged the country.

Ring-tailed lemurs lick a fruit popsicle at the Attica Zoological Park, Spata, Greece, Aug. 4, 2023.
Ring-tailed lemurs lick a fruit popsicle at the Attica Zoological Park, Spata, Greece, Aug. 4, 2023.
AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis

SPATA, Greece (AP) — At first sight, Tiembe studies his frozen breakfast with hesitation: Chunks of red meat and bone packed in a foot-long block of ice.

The 15-year-old Angolan lion eventually licks the ice before gnawing free pieces of meat.

Animals at the Attica Zoological Park outside the Greek capital were being fed frozen meals Friday as temperatures around the country reached 40 C (107.5 F) and were set to rise further, in the fourth heat wave in less than a month.

The extreme temperatures and wildfires — a growing concern for biodiversity in southern Europe — have had an impact on Greek wildlife.

A fire on the island of Rhodes burned for 11 successive days, triggering the evacuation of 20,000 people, mostly tourists.

The island's animals were less fortunate.

As the fire tore through mountain forests and a nature reserve, an estimated 2,500 animals and beehives were burned, along with 50,000 olive trees, according to Agriculture Ministry officials. Fallow deer, a symbol of Rhodes, were found lying dead on the roadside.

The zoo, which is about 30 kilometers (20 miles) east of Athens, is looking after an injured deer and several turtles — some fitted with wheels prized from toys to help with their mobility — which suffered burns and other injuries during the Rhodes fire.

Zoo curator Antonis Balas urged pet owners to be more mindful of their animals at times of extreme heat, noting that many of the popular breeds of pets are from native cooler climates in Northern and Central Europe.

"In general, heat affects animals in the same way that it affects humans," Balas said, after feeding fruit popsicles to ring-tailed lemurs, some clambering onto his shoulders to get served first.

"The iced treats are a supplement to their meals … they lick the ice and breathe in the cool air. That's in contrast to people who sweat as a way of controling their body temperature.

Ten major wildfires struck Greece in July, and included major blazes outside Athens. More than 450 pet dogs and cats were rescued from fires, many left in their homes as the owners fled, according to a charity that works with a state animal agency. About half have been reunited with their owners, the others placed in temporary adoption.

In the wake of the Greek fires, the international animal charity PETA urged animal owners not to abandon their pets.

Elisa Allen, the group's vice president for programs, said the fires also served as a reminder that the animal farming industry is a major global contributor to climate change.

"Where there's smoke, there's fire and in this case, no one should ignore how animal agriculture's greenhouse gas emissions fuel the climate catastrophe and create the conditions that let wildfires spread," Allen told The Associated Press.

Temperatures are expected to reach 42 C (107.6 F) in parts of central Greece on Saturday before easing early next week.

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