Whether it’s a blustery day of snow, or a number of days in a row with bitterly cold temperatures, the animal care staff at Connecticut’s Beardsley Zoo is prepared to keep their animal charges safe and warm. For most of the animals, their exhibits offer them the opportunity to choose whether they are outside or in, and they spend the day going back and forth.
Some of the Zoo’s animals are delighted to be in the midst of snow and ice, ignoring their heated dens. That includes the North American River otters with their dense fur that prepares them for a deep freeze. The Amur leopards and Amur tigers are also frigid-weather hardy, as their native range is the cold winters of the Russian Far East and China, and they happily choose the snow and wind. The Canada lynx is another species that finds January weather a breeze, with a native habitat that extends into Siberia, Alaska, and Canada.
Many of the North American species have evolved in cold weather climates, with heavy fur to keep them warm in spite of harsh winds and deep snow. Species like the Bison, the Pronghorn, and the Red panda are well suited to the coldest temperatures.
For the alligators and outdoor aviary turtle pond, the pool heater is turned up to 65 degrees. By increasing the temperature the heat rises off the water, and birds perch over the pond and absorb the radiant heat from the water. Christmas trees are put out for the raptors and other animals to provide windbreaks and extra shelters. (This is also a good idea for the general public, to help the native songbirds.)
Most of the animal collection can tolerate some cold, so extra thick bedding material is provided, such as straw and wood shavings, to make a warm bed for themselves.
Other animals, such as the Giant Anteaters and Chacoan peccaries, are from warm weather climates and are kept indoors any time the temperature dips below fifty degrees. The Prairie Dogs have their own system for beating the chill: their burrows include several underground rooms designed to keep them warm. They rarely emerge above ground when the temperature goes below freezing.
“Many animals adapt to the cold weather far better than we do,” said Zoo Director Gregg Dancho. “All exhibits have heated water bowls and shelter. And generally meal sizes are increased for the outdoor animals, as they burn more calories keeping warm,” he added.
On hand in any kind of weather is another North American mammal: the human zookeeper. The Zoo’s animal care staff dresses in layers and is prepared for long days in the cold, feeding and caring for their animal charges. Without fur, the staff relies on hats, gloves, wool socks and boots as they make sure the animals are safe in any weather.