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.
Small Cat Keeper: Bridget Parker
Small cat keeper! Yes, our diets do increase over the winter but for regular diet days, it doesn’t make that much of a difference time-wise. What makes the difference is the deer and goose/duck donations we get! These meals are awesome for our animals but take much longer to prep (and clean up after lol). As for the animals I mainly work with (exhibit small cats) temps play a huge role. Only 2 of my 5 types of animals can have access at basically any temp so it means I need to do more enrichment and things that are inside for them, especially our honey badgers. It also impacts cleaning since they spend more time inside and the ground is often muddy during winter. CBLA doesn’t change much from in season to winter as it’s behind the scenes. Now is when we put cat pairs together for breeding so we do spend more time observing behavior for any signs of breeding.
Fun Fact: Our keepers don’t take off holidays because our animal friends don’t take days off from needing care. Keepers are still there on Thanksgiving and Christmas and all the other holidays for that matter.
Lead Bird Keeper: Sarah Paese
Most of the birds at Tanganyika stay inside for cold weather. For their keepers, life is a lot different in winter. Cold days inside mean twice as much to clean up indoors. Also, instead of being out on exhibit while keepers clean, the birds are in the buildings with them. We have our 30+ parrots inside what we jokingly call the “loud building.” Bird keepers tell themselves the parrots are just expressing their appreciation of them at a very high volume.. for a very long amount of time. 😊
Fun Fact: Just like they have to be outside in the heat of the summer, keepers have to care for their animals when it’s cold, snowy, or icy too.
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.
Primate Keeper: Emily Berry
The off-season for primate keepers is only easier in the aspect that we don’t have to work on lemur island. When it gets cold, animals are stuck inside. Buildings get louder. Holdings get messier and take longer to clean. Primates need more enrichment to keep them entertained, so we try to utilize more puzzle feeders in order to keep their minds busy for longer periods of time.
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.
Carnivore Keeper: Jerica Tullis
Carnivore keeper. Outlook: I love winter. But don’t let that statement fool you, it’s a lot of work!
Our nice little season break is actually a lot of hard work. Most of the carnivores are outside year-round or have access outside year-round, this means their keepers are too! Next time you see those below temps remember your friendly keeper friends. We put a lot of preparation into the winter season making sure all of the animals have everything they need for the winter (heated boxes, windbreaks, straw, inside heaters, and more).
During the open season, we are lucky enough to have the help of interns, for projects and daily husbandry. The carnivore team relies heavily on these individuals to help in our kitchen. When we close for the season our interns move on. Losing an extra hand is always an adjustment period. Our diets for the carnivores also increase meaning we spend more time in the kitchen! Call us for your next catered event 💁🏻♀️ (as long as it’s meat). Winter also means it’s hunting season, and we receive a lot of donations! We are averaging one donation a day which is great, this helps feed the carnivores over the winter.
Winter means the holiday season! Animals still need to be cared for on these days. Before they go out and celebrate, keepers make sure to come into the park and look after those under their care.
You might wonder what happens to the koi that guests feed throughout the summer!? Well, when it’s cold enough they do what any Kansas fish would do and go to the very bottom of the water and go “dormant.” But we still have those occasional nice warm days that confuse the fish. We want to feed them until it’s going to stay cold, when it stays cold we will stop feeding so they go into their dormant state. If not, they might shock themselves with the temp changes.
Winter is a time to prepare for the upcoming season! Any exhibit changes, maintenance repairs, or other projects happen during this time.
It’s a lot of hard work and long days, but I prefer it. The animals also enjoy it, without the heat, you’ll see the animals with more energy. Catch me in my bib overalls (I look like a khaki marshmallow) watching snow leopards enjoy the snow ❄️ ❣️