A common question we are asked this time of year is, “What happens to the animals when the Zoo is closed?”
First, the Zoo is only scheduled to close three days each year: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s days. However, just because the Zoo is closed to the public so our staff can enjoy some quality family time, a team still arrives at 8 a.m. and remains until noon to clean and feed the animals. Depending on the weather, some animals may choose to go outside for a few hours. But most of the time, these days are too cold for the majority of animals.
The Zoo’s animal caretakers follow strict weather guidelines for each taxa, or group, of animals. For example, we know adult giraffes can tolerate cooler weather conditions, even warm rain as long as the giraffes have access to a 70-degree barn, but giraffe neonates (infants) cannot handle the temperatures. Therefore, while you may see our adult giraffes out at 50 degrees with minimal wind and sunny, you will not see our newborn giraffe out until the temperature reaches at least 55 degrees.
A second common question is, “What do the animals do when they need to be inside on cold days?” The animals get to spend time doing special activities. They may be able to spend one-on-one time with their caretakers, perhaps enjoy a quick training session and, in most cases, get to enjoy some enrichment activities that their keepers prepared for them to do on their own. For instance, the elephants have timed feeders throughout their habitats, including their heated barn. The feeders can keep the elephants moving around for up to 18 hours! And Bamboo, Kandula and Achara especially love naptime in one of the three available sand stalls.
Finally, if the weather is warm enough during a closed day at the Zoo, specific animals can stay outside with access to their inside habitats until caretakers return the next morning. Our trained security team is on Zoo grounds 24 hours a day to check on the animals and to notify caretakers of any concerns. So, our animals are never left alone, even if the Zoo is closed. Most importantly, all of the animals are well fed, safe, warm and dry on holidays, or even on snow days when the Zoo may be closed to the public.
I hope all of you had a happy holiday season. We look forward to seeing you soon!
– Laura Bottaro, zoological curator