Zoo animals embrace winter blast

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids is closed until March, but things are still busy as workers try to keep animals safe in subfreezing conditions.

Slyde and Chumani, otters at the zoo, were among the animals embracing the cold Tuesday. The pair of otters slithered through the snow and took dips in their pool without a problem.

“To get the otters outside, we actually just spent probably a good 45 minutes breaking up the ice,” Jaime Racalla, the zoo’s animal care supervisor, said. “We do have a bubbler system, but when it gets down this low for several days in a row it just can’t keep up.”

The staff at John Ball Zoo has its hands full during these winter months. Removing snow and ice is a big part of the job. Racalla explained that if snow piles swell too high inside exhibits, animals could escape.

24 Hour News 8 spotted mountain lions and the snow leopard outside despite Tuesday’s wintry conditions.

“Pretty much anybody that can be out in winter can go almost the whole winter season,” Racalla said.

But like humans, the wintry wind chills aren’t for everyone. Some of the animals are moved inside.

“We keep them at a cooler temperature still so we’re not shocking them when we want to put them back outside, but just something a little more comfortable than zero,” Racalla said.

Some of the animals in the Africa exhibit are put in warmer indoor facilities. Most of the animals, including the otters and mountain lion, have indoor-outdoor winter habitats. Each animal can decide for itself when, or if, it wants to brave the cold.

“Even if it’s not dangerous for the animals that can handle it right now, it’s starting to really get to where we want to keep staff safe too,” Racalla said. “So, these next couple days there might be a couple more animals that might be able to handle it but we may not be able to safely get them outside. They may have to take a day break or so.”

Though some zoo animals can survive the bitter cold, experts recommend bringing household pets indoors.

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