Vetstreet. All rights reserved.
Vetstreet does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. See Additional Information ›
let us see animals from far-away places that many of us will never get to visit — often places with very different climates. So you might wonder: How do those
zoo giraffes and lions make it through a cold winter?
spoke to Bill Zeigler, senior vice president of animal programs at the
Brookfield Zoo, located just outside cold and snowy Chicago, about the work
they do to keep all kinds of species healthy and content through the winter
may not realize this because the spaces are usually not visible to the public,
but animals you see exhibited outdoors typically have access to some kind of indoor area.
animals have holding areas or what you could call night houses — they may be
barns, they may be a series of cages or say giraffes, antelope, rhinos may
have large stalls," says Zeigler. These
behind-the-scenes areas usually aren't as big as the exhibits, but they provide
all the comforts needed in inclement weather. "There's bedding, there's
water; the holding areas are cleaned every day just like the exhibits
are," he says.
it's warm enough for comfort in the winter, but it's not really hot, because a big
temperature difference isn't good for the animals.
it's 20 degrees outside and the holding area is 75 degrees, going back and
forth is difficult, so the barns are maintained at a lower temperature, more
like 45 or 50 degrees," he says. "It's better for the animals — even
the more tropical animals put on a coat during the cooler seasons."
the animals aren't the only ones who put on coats! That's because the areas are
maintained for the comfort of the animals instead of people. "Our
keepers are the ones that have to wear coats when they work in them," Zeigler
conditions are extreme, animals are generally given a choice of whether they
prefer to be indoors or outdoors. And if
you're not a geography whiz, you may be surprised by some of the animals that
are perfectly fine with the cold.
think rhinos come from the tropics," he says. "Well, they do come
from Africa, but not the tropics. Even at the equator they are found at high
elevations where there is snow on the ground."
In fact, there are plenty more species that may surprise you. "We'll have visitors come out to the zoo when we've got
8 or 10 inches of snow on the ground and see the tiger or leopard out there and
say, 'Oh my God, what are you doing?' Well, that's where this tiger lives," Zeigler says. "People think 'tigers,
India — it must be really hot.' Well, Amur leopards and Amur tigers come from
eastern Russia and northern China, where it is cold as heck. They are out all
animals also tend not to get cold as easily as smaller animals do. Even without a thick
coat, a big body loses heat a lot more slowly, so don't worry about those
elephants — they are perfectly fine. "People forget, elephants came over
the Alps with Hannibal," he says. "Elephants can take the cold, too. We'll
open up the barn doors and a lot of them will say, 'I'll go out, it doesn't
bother me,'" he says. "They have such a big body mass. It takes a lot
to get them cold."
some animals want to stay in or need to when the weather is severe. So keepers
make sure they have things to do. "We
provide things to play with and occupy the mind," he says. "We have
things like food logs that they have to engage with to get
treats to keep them stimulated."
areas usually don't have the natural appearance of exhibits, since that look is
often mostly for the benefit of the public. Animals don't care what something
looks like as long as they can interact with it in an appropriate way, so
keepers sometimes have more choices behind the scenes. "We might not
provide a boomer ball or plastic toy out on exhibit — we'd do something more naturalistic,"
he says. "But in the night house, we have things like that. It's all up to
the creativity of the staff."
on the whole, enrichment is actually not much different from what keepers
provide on exhibit. That fancy scenery is the same every day for the animal, so
they still need to be provided with change and choices. "Once you make an
exhibit, you spend millions of dollars creating artificial rockwork and trees
and pools and running water — after they're in it for a few days, that's
it," he says. So on exhibit or off, staff are always providing enrichment
to keep animals active and engaging in their natural behaviors.
the wild, some animals get through the winter by hibernating, but you may be surprised to learn that it's not
something they actually have to do. "Hibernation is a way to keep them
surviving when food is not available," Zeigler says. "When you provide
food, whether it's cold or not, they won't hibernate, and it's not detrimental
to them because they're getting the nutrition to keep their body going."
Like this article? Have a point of view to share? Let us know!
Take our breed quiz to find your next pet.
Get all the best pet news and information sent right to your inbox!
Thank you for subscribing!
Repetitive behaviors like tail chasing and
excess paw licking can indicate that your
animal has a compulsive…
From Alaskan Malamute to Xoloitzcuintli,
here's our guide to pronouncing the most
tongue-twistery dog breed names.
Weaving through your legs can be an
endearing habit, but sometimes it's a
sign of a behavioral or medical issue.
Minimize the risk of a bad trick-or-treat
interaction by brushing up on your dog’s
manners before October 31.
The Schapendoes (aka Dutch Sheepdog)
is known for his incredible jumping skills
and cheerful personality.
Parasites are no fun for dogs. Learn how
to protect your canine from heartworms,
hookworms, whipworms and more.
Check out our collection of more than 250 videos about pet training, animal behavior, dog and cat breeds and more.
Wonder which dog or cat best fits your lifestyle? Our new tool will narrow down more than 300 breeds for you.
If the video doesn't start playing momentarily,
please install the latest version of Flash.
Thank you for subscribing.