It was hot at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C., this weekend. Really hot. The iPhone weather app displayed a sweltering 100 degrees.
"It feels like a million degrees," says Tammy Long, who was visiting from Pennsylvania with her husband and 2-year-old daughter. "It's sweltering out here."
Parents and kids crowd under what look like giant shower heads throughout the park. Cool mist covers them from head to toe.
Families camp out in the shade, many with ice cream in their hands. Craig Saffoe says this works for the lions and tigers, too.
"We would eat an ice cream cone to try to cool our body down," says Saffoe. "We give these guys a big cat version of an ice cream cone. It's literally a block of blood, frozen, and they'll munch that down."
Saffoe is curator for the big cats. He shows the huge restaurant-size freezer where they keep those blocks of blood. On the shelf, there's what looks like an oversize hockey puck with a distinct deep reddish color.
He describes the ingredients, "This is the blood and remaining juice from the normal beef diet that these guys get."
At the zoo they're known as "bloodsicles." As in blood ... Popsicles. On a hot day, Saffoe will pop a bloodsicle out of its plastic container and toss it to the lions and tigers.
They love it, he says. But bloodsicles alone aren't enough to keep the big cats cool.
"We want them to get into the water so they can cool down a bit," Saffoe says
Inside the tigers' enclosure, he drops a huge ball made of tough plastic into the pool. It makes a big splash.
A male tiger, Bandar, makes his way out from his air-conditioned cage to investigate. All of the kids watching start roaring instinctively.
Bandar puts on a show for them. He's playful as he splashes in the water. For a moment he almost looks like a house cat.
But he's not. He's a wild animal. And it can seem a little odd that these tigers have pool toys and access to air conditioning.
"We come by and we watch an animal like a tiger or a lion and we say 'Oh, they're used to the heat, they're from Africa or they're from Sumatra,' " says Saffoe. "And, well, these individual cats have never been to Africa, have never been to Sumatra."
These animals were raised in Washington, D.C., at the National Zoo. Although something like a bloodsicle might seem unnatural, and honestly a little disgusting, to these cats it's just another summertime treat on one of the hottest days of the year.