Chahinkapa Zoo residents have fared well through the first blizzard of the winter season.
Winter zoo keeping is much different than summer keeping. The animals need excellent care year round and the tasks change with the seasons.
Regular habitat maintenance is completely unlike the summer when we clean their outdoor habitats while they are inside. We shift them on exhibit and complete their indoor cleaning which takes a great part of the day for the entire collection. In the winter we shift them inside to a separate division of their rooms and clean one portion at a time.
The pathways must be kept clear. Although we are closed to the general public (open by appointment) our staff must maneuver safely and efficiently throughout their work day. One ice incident can leave us shorthanded as with any business.
Heat - Many non-native animals must be kept at 70 degrees or above. Each of those indoor dens/habitats has a two heat source in case one fails. The floor heat is most efficient in that if a heating supply stops functioning the temperature maintains for up to 72 hours. Temperature alarms allow us to check each room via smart phone or on site. Years ago we trudged through the banks of snow in all hours to check every animal during a blizzard.
Air - The buildings with animals must have proper ventilation and move fresh air. The Jensen Primate Center (formerly Animal Care Center) tempers the air through an attic system and is most efficient.
Food and Water - Diet preparations are done much like during the summer months except calorie intake is carefully monitored and in many cases food portions are increased. Examples include: birds of prey, cougars, bobcats, otters and other native species. Water freezes quickly and ice must be busted from the pans a couple times daily. Automatic waterers for the hoof stock are great and we are blessed to have them in place.
Enrichment - This is always a huge challenge in the winter when many animals remain in their indoor habitats. Food puzzles, toys, olfactory (scent), audio, and visual enrichments are varied and must be recorded in a log daily. For example, when Tal (orangutan) gets chalk drawings on Monday he will not receive that same enrichment for awhile. Tuesday may bring a 55-gallon barrel of snow for him to play in or search for treasures. Thank you to Leif Schleiker for donating a 42-inch television to Tal. He will enjoy a couple movies a week.
Health and Safety - Animal welfare is the top of our list. And zookeepers and other staff also must remain safe and fit through the winter. If any one person has any cold or virus symptoms they are banned from doing animal care in the primates. These closely related species can easily catch colds and flu from us. Keepers are like mail carriers, they must perform 100 percent in all weather .
For a sneek peek of our winter care, come on down at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 2 for the Groundhog Day presentation and Zoo Open House. Mayor Steve Dale will preside at this kick-off event in celebration of the 150th Anniversary of our proud city! In the meantime stay warm and enjoy the winter season!
Kathy Diekman, director of Chahinkapa Zoo in Wahpeton