No snow day blues where the animals roam

Philadelphia zoo lion in the snow last week
Tajiri, a three-year-old female lion, hangs out in the snow at the Philadelphia Zoo. Credit: Charles Mostoller/Metro

Heavy snowfall and freezing winds sent most Philadelphians indoors seeking out warm places to hide last week. But what about those of who live outdoors?

At the Philadelphia Zoo, adjusting to the dropping temperatures wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for zookeepers and wildlife staff. It helps that some animals actually like to be out in the cold.

“The polar bears were given full access to the outside, and they probably thoroughly enjoyed it,” said Kevin Murphy, general curator at the zoo.

“Some of our cold hardy cats were definitely out there enjoying that weather. Snow leopards are from the Himalayan mountains – they’re built for the ice and snow,” he added.

While these large animals enjoyed the weather, other, more vulnerable critters were kept safely inside.

Overall, “very few of our species had full access to the outdoors,” Murphy said.

Whenever there’s a question of whether larger animals can handle the cold or not, Murphy said his staff lets the animals themselves decide.

“Whenever theres’ a doubt and the animal is capable of making a choice, we give the animal the choice of going out in the situation,” Murphy said.

That’s part of the Philadelphia Zoo’s philosophy.

“We try to make choice part of an animal’s environment,” Murphy said.

One of the species that can generally take the cold well is the Zoo’s variety of bears.

“Polar bears, sloth bears, Asiatic black bears and the Andean bears would be given choice on certain days — they can choose to go in or out,” Murphy said.

Birds, reptiles and smaller mammals stayed indoors in heated environments.

But the creatures at the zoo who had the hardest time adjusting to the cold were humans, Murphy said.

Staff were responsible for digging path through some of the snow filled exhibits, both for some species to traverse and for humans to deliver them food and other needed treats.

“It’s challenging on staff to work in the weather,” he said. “They’re navigating the zoo on foot, going out in habitats and being outside.”

As far as managing the species, the zoo’s staff is mindful that zebras can be okay with cold weather – up to a point.

Some species of tortoise, like the Galapagos tortoise, won’t necessarily walk itself indoors when temperatures start to drop, and needs to be monitor.

Other creatures like flamingos have to be kept in indoors, heated environments as long as the weather is cold.

“Extreme cold or heat are challenging, but it’s not outside the majority of what we do everyday,” Murphy said. “It’s all about managing the animal’s environment.”
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