Behind the Scenes at the Indianapolis Zoo ‘Deserts’ exhibit

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind . — The Indianapolis Zoo’s “Deserts” exhibits may be the warmest way to see the animals during the winter months. The exhibit is encased by a geometric dome and kept at roughly 84 degrees year round for the species housed inside.

CBS4 got a behind-the-scenes look at what keepers at the Indianapolis Zoo’s Deserts exhibit do before visitors arrive.

“It’s the majority of our day is to take care of all of them, make sure they’re OK, give out medications,” explained Deserts keeper, Andrew Ahl.

They day starts off like anyone else’s: zookeepers feed the animals throughout the exhibit and those who have been taken out for either medical care, rest or warmth. They then prepare additional foods, like salads, for the following days in the week.

“We prepare salads four times a week for the lizards and anything like tortoises that eat the vegetation. We have varied diets for the meerkats—they get fruit, sweet potato time and time again and they also get bugs and insects.”

During any given week, Ahl says they prepare up to 40 individual diets.

Keepers then make the rounds to check on all the animals and make sure they’re healthy and eating. For those animals that have been taken outside the public display, that also involves changing their cages, cleaning their water supply and providing extra care as needed.

“My favorite part of the day is just hanging out with the animals—I think that’s any zookeeper’s favorite part of the day,” Ahl said.

Some animals are taken out from the public exhibit in order to undergo medical treatment. There are designated cages and crates equipped with heat lamps so that these desert-native species can get extra heat and radiation which are vital to bone strength, digestion and energy.

“With the heat lights and the building, they can stay at a comfortable level. Then with our heat lights they have extra heat for basking,” Ahl added.

Besides every day care and education, keepers within the Deserts exhibit also participate in conservation work. They currently watch over the breeding of several male and female Jamaican iguanas, an animal that was once considered extinct.

“The goal is to breed those individuals,” Ahl said.

The zoo has several male and female Jamaican iguanas that are kept in the back of the Deserts exhibit; they try different environments, diets and matches to try to encourage breeding.

“It’s kind of like a dating service. They pair them up and kind of see what happens,” Ahl added.

The Indianapolis Zoo has hatched more than 30 Jamaican iguanas since 2006, but the efforts can be tricky.

The zoo offers fun education and information in the warm desert dome, but the behind the scenes efforts serve as a reminder that there’s so much more going on than just entertainment.

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