Fort Worth Botanic Garden, zoo combat summer heat with creativity

When Fort Worth Zoo built an Elephant Springs habitat in 2021 for Asian elephants and greater one-horned rhino, it created a 400,000-gallon pool.

To survive the summer heat, the big mammals can just plop in the “river.”

Fort Worth Botanic Garden and Zoo adjust hours for summer

Starting July 10, the Fort Worth Zoo opens and closes an hour earlier; the new hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

The Fort Worth Botanic Garden is open 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a 7 a.m. members-only hour. Both organizations close at 5 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

As Texas sizzles, Fort Worth Botanic Garden and Fort Worth Zoo developed plans to beat the heat. From plant selection and early watering to icy treats and cold baths — along with moving up the opening hours — each outdoor destination has creative ways to keep its plants, animals, staff and visitors safe during the heat.

The Fort Worth Botanic Garden started planning for the heat before summer began, president and CEO Patrick Newman said. 

In late April and early May, Newman’s team started selecting plants that can survive the heat. A diverse palette of plants can withstand the Texas heat, and over 90% of the garden’s selection survives through the season, said Newman, who added one of his favorites during this time is flame acanthus

“We sort of joke and say that we’re always looking for ‘flameproof’ plants because we know that during the heat of the summer, they’re going to have to do really well during extreme conditions,” he said. 

Most animals that stay outside at the zoo are native to warmer climates like Asia and Africa or from Texas, so they’re familiar with the heat, said Avery Elander, director of marketing and public relations at Fort Worth Zoo.

Animals requiring specialized temperatures, like reptiles, stay indoors where the zoo can monitor the temperature, lighting and humidity, Elander said.

“We’ve been here for over 100 years, and we’re used to the warming temperatures year after year, and a lot of our individual animals have been here year after year,” she said. “So just like humans, they’ve acclimated.”

Greater one-horned rhino Asha submerges in the Elephant Springs habitat at the Fort Worth Zoo (Courtesy photo | Fort Worth Zoo)

Still, when staff members come in, one of their first tasks is to create ice blocks the animals consume throughout the day. The animals also take ice baths and can hide under their barns when temperatures reach over 100. 

Most animals have a built-in pool in their habitat, too. 

At the garden, staff mainly plants in the fall and early spring — which avoids the summer heat and freezes that Texas has seen more frequently — to allow the plants to be best established before extreme temperatures occur, Newman said. 

Greater one-horned rhino Parvesh swims in the Elephant Springs habitat at the Fort Worth Zoo (Courtesy photo | Fort Worth Zoo)

Staff preparation

Fort Worth will remain in triple digits for the week of July 10, according to the National Weather Service. Texas and summer heat aren’t an unusual combination, but the Climate Prediction Center has forecasted that the Lone Star State will be even hotter than normal this time.  

Botanic Garden staff mulches early in the season and comes in earlier to water the plants when the temperatures are lower, which helps keep as much liquid in the soil as possible before it evaporates, Newman said. 

The zoo staff cleans and prepares food earlier in the day, Elander said. Workers also have multiple water stations throughout the park, and on-site 24/7 security is available to handle heat-related situations. 

While the Botanic Garden adjusts its opening hours, it doesn’t close off any areas during the summer. Staff members will come in early before the heat sets in and leave before the weather becomes unbearable, Newman said. 

They are also asked to come indoors for a 15-minute break after every 45 minutes outside when the heat index reaches 105 or above, he said. 

A waterfall sits along a walkway inside the Fort Worth Botanic Garden Rainforest Conservatory. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

‘The business of providing emotional souvenirs’

The zoo has a lot of natural shade along its main path and offers benches, Elander said. Multiple areas have shade structures equipped with fans and misters, and visitors can also hang out at Safari Splash, a 14,000-square-foot water play area. 

The zoo also has multiple areas with air conditioning to visit, such as the Museum of Living Art and the World of Primates

Botanic garden visitors can sign up for a shuttle bus system with air conditioning and mobility support if people have a big wagon or a stroller, Newman said. The bus runs seven days a week and stops at multiple areas within the garden. 

Newman encourages readers and guests to visit the garden to see plants that survive well so they can build their own “vibrant and thriving” garden spaces where they live.

“We see ourselves as being in the business of providing emotional souvenirs to our guests, and we want those souvenirs to be very positive,” Newman said. “And so we’re doing everything we can to make the experience through the summer as pleasant as possible.”

Dang Le is a reporting fellow for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at [email protected] or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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