By Rachel Wulff

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) – A heatwave hitting the valley has forced the Sacramento Zoo to implement early closures through the end of the week.

“We normally come mid-morning,” said Sarah Sanford.

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Sanford and her family were in the front doors early Wednesday trying to beat the heat like others looking for summer fun when it’s sizzling outside.

“We haven’t been to the zoo in a long time. I looked yesterday and they said they were closing early so we came now,” said Andrea Pitcock.

The zoo closed at 1 p.m. Wednesday and will do so again Thursday and Friday with triple-digit temperatures looming. There are fewer visitors in the later afternoon hours, so closing early due to extreme heat means fewer chances for heat-related illness.

“It makes our staff’s lives easier to concentrate on the animals and to keep the staff healthy and safe,” said Zoo Director Jason Jacobs.

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Many animals are used to the heat. They slow down just like us.

“In fact, many face temperatures like this consistently in their native habitat,” Jacobs said.

With cheetahs and lions looking for shady spots, the zoo designed habitats to meet their needs.

“So for the lions, we built a nice shady den in the front that stays really cool in summertime, and in the wintertime, we are able to heat it with radiant heaters and put some straw down,” said Jacobs.

The zoo is building shady spots, wallowing areas and creating other ways to cool off – and not just for the animals. When the zoo closed last year for several months due to the pandemic, they installed misters, which come in handy when the temperature hits triple digits.

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“It’s definitely a nice addition and you’re already feeling the heat. It’s starting to get warm so I think it’s going to help out,” said Sanford.