Page 19 - Scene Magazine 41-12 December 2016
P. 19

At The Zoo
What happens to the animals in the winter?
 The leaves are falling, tempera- tures are dropping, and soon snow will be everywhere. We start to prepare our- selves by dressing warmer and hun- kering down for the
coming winter. A question often asked at Binder Park Zoo is, “What happens to the animals in the winter?” The answer is not as complicated as you may think and the zookeeping staff at Binder Park Zoo works hard to ensure that all animals have the greatest of care and resources no matter what the current season.
Binder Park Zoo is home to an array of animals, but most notably we have a large collection of animals in our Wild Africa area. Animals you may routine- ly see on exhibit include zebra, giraffe, bontebok, vultures, cheetahs, and many others that call Africa their home. When you think of Africa you probably have a few images that come to mind, one of those being the hot savannah with huge grassy plains and roaming herd animals. It’s hard to imagine these animals against the backdrop of a Michigan winter, so what exactly happens?
Many guests ask if we send our ani- mals to other zoos for the winter, while others ask if they just hibernate. Well the answer is much simpler than you might expect. Zoos prepare themselves in a multitude of ways for the oncom- ing winter season, but for zoos up here in the great white north, a lot of prepa- ration and work are involved. Although we would love for these animals to ex- perience their natural habitat year round, shipping them out each season would be extremely stressful and could cause some serious health issues. And since these animals come from an exception- ally warm climate, they do not hibernate. The Binder Park Zoo staff does the next best thing by preparing our animal en- closures and holding areas to best suit each animal’s temperature and environ- mental needs.
So what does preparing the barns and holding areas look like? Well, aside from what you see on exhibit, each ani-
mal has a separate holding area that they live in when they are not on exhibit. The larger animals live in very large barns with individual stalls where they have enough space to exercise, eat, drink, and rest. Smaller animals, such as small and medium sized birds, are moved to appropriate sized holding areas where they can be closely monitored. As the weather gets more extreme and tempera- tures drop, zookeepers work diligently to help maintain environments that best suit each animal. This is no easy task, but is done with hard work and dedication. Animals receive heated water bowls so their drinking water doesn’t freeze. An- imal holding areas are heated to main- tain a constant temperature, but for those animals that enjoy it a bit warmer, very large heating elements are hung over their resting areas to raise the tempera- ture and make them more comfortable. In newer buildings, some animals have the luxury of heated floors; this way they aren’t distressed by cool ground and can
feel free to move around and explore their indoor area.
Each animal has its own individual needs, which not only includes a diet and exercise routine, but also heat gra- dients. Binder Park Zoo has many ani- mals that enjoy colder temperatures such as the snow leopard, the lynx, and the owls. These animals require very little extra care during the winter season and feel right at home with dropping tem- peratures. Animals from other places in the world such as Africa may not be used to colder temperatures, but that doesn’t mean they can’t handle it. If you think about it, most of us prefer it to be 75 degrees, but that doesn’t mean we stop going outside when its 45 degrees, and the animals are no different. The animals in Binder Park Zoo’s collection, includ- ing the African animals, can handle low- er temperatures and many of them will still leave their holding areas to enjoy outside access even when snow is on the ground. Zookeepers closely monitor the behavior of each animal as well as the environment to make sure they are safe. No animals would be allowed access outdoors if they aren’t within their tem- perature range or if their access area is icy or packed with too much snow. Part of being a zookeeper is knowing each animal’s natural history, range and ac- ceptable environmental conditions.
The next time the snow falls and you wonder where the animals in Binder Park Zoo may possibly be, just know that they are still here receiving great care and waiting to see you in the spring!
BY SEAN MURPHY, Zookeeper, Binder Park Zoo
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