Winter, in all of its frozen glory, is upon us. Since most of our animals live outside, we get a lot of questions about where our animals live during the off-season. It’s different for every animal, but the basic answer is the same: they all stay at the Zoo!
This might surprise people, since Indiana winters are known to be harsh and filled with snow. But don’t worry; our animals don’t have to stay out in the snow all season. At least, not all of them. That’s right, some of our animals do stay outside during the winter, because they love the snow! Animals like our Canadian lynx and our Red Pandas are used to living in cold climates, and they have many adaptions that help them survive in the cold. For instance, “Red Pandas have fur covering every part of their body- even the bottom of their paws- to help keep them warm,” says Helena Lacey, Zookeeper. So when our keepers get to the Zoo after it snows, they find those animals right at home in their usual exhibits, enjoying the winter wonderland.
The animals that can’t be outside in the cold- like many of the animals that live in the African Journey-have indoor spaces that keep them safe and warm during the winter months. The giraffes have a huge barn that can be seen behind their exhibit where they go into at night and when it’s cold, and our alligators have a building to the left of their exhibit that keeps them toasty warm all year long.
Every animal is different, and each species has a different temperature threshold that they are able to tolerate. For instance, our giraffes can’t be outside if it’s less than 55 degrees outside, but our ostrich Penny can withstand temperatures as low as 0 degree Fahrenheit! Others animals, like our African penguins, surprise people- they actually hate the cold! “Most people assume penguins love the snow, but this particular species comes from southern Africa, and they can’t tolerate the cold Indiana winters,” Mitchell Overmyer (Zookeeper- Aquatics) tells us. So on cold days like today when the temperature is below 32 degrees, they stay inside.
Our animals stay here all year round, but so do our people. There’s another fact that usually surprises our guests: there are workers at the Zoo 365 days a year, even on Thanksgiving and Christmas! People can be shocked to hear this, but even though our gates aren’t open for the public, someone has to come take care of the animals each day. The Zoo is definitely a lot quieter in the off-season without all the guests around, but even in the dead of winter, the Zoo is always alive with activity!
If you were at the Zoo last Saturday, you probably saw lots of animals with pumpkins in their exhibits. While this is adorable in itself, there is a purpose for the pumpkins besides just providing cute photos! Pumpkins were actually given as a form of enrichment, which are activities or challenges we give our animals to encourage behaviors they would naturally exhibit in the wild. Animals all over the Zoo were given pumpkins filled with treats or other Halloween-themed enrichment, all aimed to encourage their natural behaviors and allow keepers to educate guests about the enrichment process.
This year, Britni Plummer (Zoo Keeper, Aquatics) helped to provide enrichment for many of our animals. Every animal receives something different, depending on their individual needs. For instance, the dingoes were given ghosts and pumpkins to encourage their hunting instincts, and our red pandas received bamboo-stuffed pumpkins to encourage foraging. “For penguins, keepers made hanging bats out of cardboard and paper towels. This was to encourage their natural curiosity and chasing behaviors. They were a little skeptical at first, but they love to peck at and chase things that swing and move. With our sea lions, we wanted to encourage a natural foraging behavior so we hid frozen fish inside of small pumpkins. The sea lions had to push the pumpkins around or toss them in the air in order to get the fish out.” While sea lions don’t encounter pumpkins in the wild, this gave them a challenge and forced them to think creatively to get to their fish!
While we offer enrichment throughout the entire year, it’s always fun to do themed enrichment around the holidays for both the animals and the keepers (a little zookeeper enrichment, if you will). After all, who doesn’t love pumpkins?
Check out our animals receiving their pumpkin enrichment this year: