Zoo Atlanta Announces Temporary Early Closures Due To Extreme Heat

The National Weather Service listed heat indexes in Atlanta at 99 degrees on Thursday


Zoo Atlanta will temporarily close early due to extreme heat indexes.

The zoo announced Tuesday on Twitter that it would close its gates to visitors earlier than usual on Wednesday and Thursday. The zoo cited the early closures due to "extremely high heat indexes predicted by the National Weather Service," according to a press release on the zoo's website. Entry gates closed at 1 p.m. on Wednesday, and the zoo's grounds closed completely at 2:30 p.m. — a temporary schedule expected to continue on Thursday, according to the release.

On Thursday, The National Weather Service (NWS) listed parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, and Georgia under heat advisories. Additionally, portions of central Georgia were under excessive heat warnings; the NWS recorded heat indexes in Atlanta at 99 degrees Fahrenheit.

"Temperature-wise, sizzling heat will be a mainstay along the Gulf Coast where daytime highs make a run at the century mark, and heat indices will top out around 110 degrees in spots," the NWS wrote on its weather prediction center website. "Some daily records, both high minimums, and maximums, are likely to be broken. To account for these brutally hot conditions, Heat Advisories have been issued from eastern Texas to the Southeast coast."

Zoo Atlanta is generally open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. during weekdays, with final entries for visitors at 3:30 p.m. each day, according to the zoo's website. The zoo urged in its release that guests planning to visit on Wednesday or Thursday arrive during the morning hours. The zoo expects to resume its usual operating schedule on Friday.

Zoo Atlanta director of communications Rachel Davis told PEOPLE in a statement that the zoo has "steps in place to ensure animal well-being in extreme temperatures, both during heat like we're having now or in winter in cold temperatures. This has always been the case and is in place regardless of whether or not the Zoo is open or closed, and is in place year-round. Animal care and well-being are a daily number one priority regardless of the presence of visitors or of the Zoo's hours of operation."

"All of the animals here at the zoo have their own temperature guidelines based on their species and region of origin. In terms of hot weather, it's dependent on the species — some animals may come indoors earlier in the day than they usually would, or will have access to climate-controlled indoor areas," she continued, adding that Zoo Atlanta animals also have access to shade, water features, mister fans, and ice treats during hot weather.

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Zoo Atlanta hosts more than 1,000 animals from over 200 species worldwide, including the only giant panda twins in the United States, according to its website.

Significant parts of the country have experienced heat waves lately, even though summer 2022 only officially started on Tuesday. On June 16, two deaths in Wisconsin were investigated as heat-related, and a spokesperson for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment told PEOPLE that at least 2,000 cattle died due to intense heat and humidity.

Last Wednesday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced that May of 2022 was the ninth-warmest May over the previous 143 years, though it said the month was the coolest May since 2013. So far, 2022 ranks the sixth warmest year ever, according to the NOAA.

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