We asked our Amazing Expert Keepers to tell us what it’s really like behind-the-scenes during Winter at Tanganyika. They shared all the good stuff that only they know and see every day.
Read about it below and check out their special selfies.
Hoofstock Keeper: Eric Olson
In Petting Zoo I work with animals that tend to be hardier in cold weather than many of our other species, but even my work dynamic shifts between the warmer and colder months. During the summer our camels are usually hard at work giving guests rides, but after we close for the season that’s kind of their winter break (although it’s important to keep camels exercised, so we still work with them throughout the winter as well). Our goats and alpacas love to eat, and during the summer they get lots of food from the feed dispensers we provide our guests! After we close for the season, we closely monitor those animals’ diets and make adjustments if necessary. Our animals undergo physical changes in response to the onset of colder weather as well. The camels and goats grow thicker coats of fur for the winter, which they shed come spring. As you can imagine, that results in a lot of fur sheds that need to be brushed off and/or cleaned from surfaces the animals rub against.
Fun Fact: Carnivore team increases diets for all cats and this time of year. We get a lot of deer donations from animals that are accidentally hit on the roads, as well as hunting donations.
Primate Supervisor: Jessica Toles Price
Things change for primate keepers during the winter. Primates can’t be outside on colder days so they spend more time inside which means more indoor cleaning and scrubbing for keepers. We are constantly checking the weather to see if it’s warm enough for them to go outside or at least be given access to their exhibits or enclosures with the option to stay inside. We don’t go off the actual temperature but the “feels like” temperature. We also take into consideration wind and precipitation. It can be pretty noisy in the lemur building and new barn during the winter when one group of primates starts alarm calling because there was a loud unexpected noise then all the other groups chime in.
Hoofstock Keeper: Emily Johnson
Taking care of giraffes in the winter is still a lot of work. We have 18 giraffes right now that stay inside all through the winter (unless there is an oddly warm day), and they create a lot more of a mess to clean than when they go outside during the spring and summer. Also, when the giraffes go outside, that means keepers can clean multiple stalls in the barn at once, but when they are inside in the winter we can only clean one stall at a time which can slow us down a bit during the morning routine. However, when they are inside through the winter, that means their keepers get a lot more time to work on training them and giving them fun enrichment to keep their minds busy and active. Cleaning up after them can be hard through the winter, but I am always grateful to be able to spend more quality time working closely with them.
Keeper: Kiana Lucero
Cleaning in the winter takes longer when animals aren’t able to go outside as much… especially otters who like to make nice warm nests out of hay and shredded boxes and then sometimes dump that nesting material in their pools too. Our team is responsible for quite a few of the experiences offered at the park. Since we do less of those during the winter, that means we have a little more time to catch up on projects and paperwork and work on training animals for new experiences! Last offseason, we had baby otters that we were working on getting ready for meet and greets. This year, we have a lot of penguin chicks being born. We’ve had 6 born so far since September and still have a few more eggs that might hatch! Taking care of the babies is a lot of extra work on top of our normal routine duties and we are hoping to spend time socializing these chicks and getting them used to being around people so that we have more great ambassador birds to use for meet and greets, weddings and swims next year! We’re also training the otters on some new behaviors and hoping to expand what we do with them next year!
Reptile Keeper: Cassie Smith
Reptile keeper here! While a lot of our ectotherms (fancy zookeeper term for what most people describe as “cold-blooded,”) are mostly inside in warm tanks, we do have some animals that need to come inside to stay warm. Moving our Aldabra tortoises is no small feat, with our largest boy at over 120 pounds! We set these animals up with heat lamps, hay, and humidifiers to ensure that they stay warm and cozy all winter long. Working with reptiles definitely has its perks during the winter because I’m able to come into our designated reptile rooms that are nice and toasty. Some reptiles go into a state of brumation (hey look at another fancy term! Brumation is almost the equivalent of hibernation but specifically for reptiles and amphibians.) During this time, they may not eat as much and instead choose to snooze their days away. While this may seem worrying to some people, reptiles can go MONTHS without eating! We make sure to keep track of how much they are eating, the temperature and humidity of their environment, and overall activity to ensure they are staying happy and healthy. I moved here a few months ago from Florida so I am also adjusting to the cold temperatures. Amongst all of the cleaning and other husbandry aspects of taking care of a hoard of reptiles, I am very grateful to have the opportunity to brave the cold with all of these scaly critters.