How hot-weather Indianapolis Zoo animals cope with cold

Weather Stories

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — While many of us may think a trip to the zoo is a summertime activity, the Indianapolis Zoo is open year-round.

Storm Track 8 found out what happens to those animals that are native to the desert and aren’t accustomed to bitter blasts of air.

The crowd may be a little thin on this cold day at the Indianapolis Zoo, but there’s still plenty to see during the winter season.

Carla Knapp, public relations specialist at the zoo, said, “We have little hidden features inside of most of our animal exhibits that will keep them nice and comfortable during the weather months. They’re nice and cozy, and guests really like to enjoy the animals at a time of year that’s a little different than the traditional summer visit.”

The red panda and other animals are active and enjoying the bitter blast. The panda is not bothered by snow on the tree while snacking some sweet treats.

Holly Balok, senior zookeeper, said, “You see a change in activity level a little bit. The ones that are more acclimated to the cold weather like the tigers and the red pandas are more active.”

A short walk down the path and visitors will notice the bears skipping hibernation. Their coats get thicker during the winter months, and the bears packed on a few pounds. Since the water in the bears normal habitat freezes, zookeepers have an alternative water source for them.

But while these animals thrive in the cold, there are others you can’t see when the mercury dips below freezing.

Balok said, “We’ve got indoor spaces for everybody that are climate-controlled. We try not to keep it too warm in there. Everyone has different temperature parameters that we can put animals out in so even the lions can go out if it’s above-freezing.”

The senior zookeeper says on a sunny and relatively warm day, the staff will leave the outdoor space open and let the animals choose if they want to get some fresh air.

But sometimes the animals surprise even the most seasoned keepers when it comes to snow.

“We had one of our lions come from San Diego Zoo and he’s never seen snow in his life. He walked out on a snowy day and it was like he was born to it,” Balok said.

While many of the animals love the cold, humans need a comfortable place to warm up. If visitors need to take a break from the cold, they can come inside the desert dome. Temperatures are from 70-80 degrees. You can see reptiles and other animals, but visitors may have to remove a layer or two of their clothes. Snakes, meerkats and other smaller animals provide entertainment as visitors walk around and warm up.

Balok enjoys seeing the animals adapt to the changing weather conditions in the winter.

“It’s just fun to watch them everyday negotiate their environment with how crazy this weather can be at times. It just keeps you on your toes,” Balok said.

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