Rachel Gies has been a fan of the Franklin Park Zoo since she was young. “I like the zoo a lot because I enjoy seeing all the different kinds of animals in real life, not just in books and on television,” said the junior at Boston Latin School. Like many New England children, Gies has often wondered what happens to animals during the winter.
Many zoos that experience frigid winters have policies in place to protect their animals from the extreme weather. John Piazza, Zoo New England Mammal Curator, is responsible for managing the mammal collection at both Franklin Park and Stone Zoo. Piazza says, “I work with our zookeepers on a daily basis to monitor our animals’ behaviors and actions as a means of keeping them healthy, safe and comfortable. We are lucky to have a lot of resources to assist in accomplishing those goals.”
At Franklin Park Zoo, lions have a special heated rock to keep them warm and African dogs can escape into heated caves. Piazza states, “Many of the species that hail from tropical regions have permanent indoor exhibits and are not affected during the winter months. The Tropical Forest at Franklin Park Zoo is a good example of this. This large indoor space, which is kept at 72 degrees year-round, is home to western lowland gorillas, ring-tailed lemurs, pygmy hippos, Baird’s tapirs, free-flight birds and many other species.” Piazza adds that tropical animals are more vulnerable to the cold. “We take great care to ensure these species have adequate heat, light and sometimes adjustments to seasonal dietary needs,” he said.
Joanne Leu, a junior at John D. O’Bryant, always assumed the animals were brought inside once all the visitors were gone. She also concluded that their fur would keep them warm. Leu is correct, some animals require less attention than other. “North American porcupines and reindeer – all of which are well-adapted to winter weather -- usually only require a minimal amount of heat be provided in their shelter,” said Piazza.
Both the Franklin Park and Stone Zoo are accredited by Association of Zoos and Aquariums. This means they “undergo a rigorous six-month long review, as well as an on-site inspection by a team of experts who examine the animal collection; veterinary care; exhibits and physical facilities; safety; security; finances; staffing and involvement in education, conservation and research,” said Piazza.
While the winter months are long, animals are kept physically and mentally occupied. An enrichment committee is responsible for understanding how animals act in their natural environments so they can recreate it. “Whether an animal likes to stalk and chase its prey, burrow underground to hide, or forage for food, its behavior is taken into consideration when creating enrichment.”
Through observation and research, zookeepers have thoughtfully created environments where different species can survive year round in environments that most closely resemble their natural habitats. The next time you find yourself visiting the animals at the Franklin Park Zoo, know they are well taken care of all year round.