How Potter Park's Animals Are Spending The Winter

Jan 12, 2018

Some people love the cold and some just aren’t built for it… and the same goes for the animal kingdom. WKAR’s Katie Cook stopped by Potter Park Zoo last week to see which animals are thriving in winter, and which ones want nothing to do with it.

Potter Park Zoo is covered in a fluffy blanket of snow, and is peacefully quiet.

General Curator Sarah Pechtel and I have bundled up for a quick walk around the park to visit some of the animals who are enjoying the cold.

"Winter means a lot more heated water bowls, a lot more bedding, heat mats, we give them heated houses, a lot more enrichment to keep them entertained if they have to spend a lot more time than normal inside," says Pechtel.

Personally, I binge watch TV shows to fight boredom in the winter. But the animals at Potter Park spend their time sharpening their skills.

"Enrichment is ways to help animals use those natural instincts that they would be using all the time in the wild but they don't really have to use at the zoo necessarily because they're kind of catered to. So we may give them objects that allow them to forage, use their senses more fully, scent mark, maybe dig."

Our first stop is to see the otters. The male and female are both outside sitting on the ice.

"So the otters actually they love playing in the snow. Their water is not heated, we just use bubblers to help keep parts of it ice free, and they don't have any problem going in and out of that very very cold water."
 

The bald eagle calls us away from the otter exhibit. Pechtel says they do well in the cold.

"Birds are really interesting because they have ways to not let the blood in their chilly feet cool the rest of their bodies. Animals have a lot of really great winter adaptations."


As we walked up to the wolf exhibit, a beautiful light gray wolf stands up at the fence to greet us.

"They do pretty well in the winter, they get a nice thick coat. So sometimes you come in the spring and they look a little shaggy because all that extra winter coat is coming out."

Of course it comes as no surprise that the snow leopard enjoys the winter. Potter Park’s snow leopard is turning 21 this year. The median lifespan for a snow leopard is 15.

"She was born here, so she's kind of like our special girl. And because she's so much older, we definitely make some modifications for her so that she can still be comfortable in these winter months."

The leopard is curled up inside her little house, looking very relaxed.

"She's like a little old grandma. So just like your little old grandma might want some extra blankets and some extra heat, we give her a heated box. It's got a couple heat mats in it and extra straw. And she just does great."
 

Most African animals don’t love the cold, so it does come as a surprise to hear about a rhinoceros that likes winter.

"As long as there's no ice and it's sunny and the temperatures aren't cold like today, our rhinos can go out and spend a little bit of time in the sunshine. And our female rhino Doppsy loves playing in the snow."

The zoo also has camels who thrive in the winter. They’re Bactrian, not like the dromedaries who live in desert temperatures.

"You can always tell Bactrians have two humps like a capital letter B. Dromedaries have one hump like a capital letter D. So, always a good way to tell your camels apart."

Other animals at Potter Park who enjoy the winter are the red panda, arctic fox, and even the tigers enjoy a bit of cold. But one animal truly built for the frigid temps is the moose. They do not tolerate the heat.

"The moose will lay out in the snow and their bodies will generate so much heat that they will stand up, and they will have melted the snow all the way down to bare earth."

For this reason, the winter is a great time to come see them. And it’s actually pretty special that Potter Park has them.

"There's only like eight zoos in the United States that have moose. So they're pretty rare. We've had people come from very distant places actually to see them and come visit them."

As far as who doesn’t like winter, the lions aren’t fans. And believe it or not, the penguins at the park don’t do well in these winter temperatures, because they’re from South America, not Antarctica. But, no one dislikes winter as much as the porcupine.

"So many other animals increase their diet in the winter months and he slows down, he eats less. He’s super difficult to get to train, our keepers work with him and he’s not interested he wants to nap, he’s definitely super slow, not really interested in participating."

So if you yourself are more of a moose in the winter, you might want to come out to Potter Park this season for a chilly, peaceful walk. And if you’re more of a porcupine, enjoy your winter naps and we’ll see you in the spring.