Utah’s Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City has remained open year-round despite the cold temperatures and snow a Utah winter can bring.
Erica Hansen, community relations manager and official spokesperson for the zoo, said she enjoys telling people things people might not know about the zoo during the winter.
“A lot of people don’t know this zoo is open year-round,” Hansen said. “We kind of fall off the radar for a lot of people and we do have species from all sorts of climates.”
Hansen said having so many species in a winter climate requires a different strategy, and the zoo tries to ensure the safety of both the animals and the human visitors.
“This past Sunday we had to close the zoo, which we almost never do, because our grounds crew just couldn’t keep up with the snow removal,” Hansen said.
Depending on the animal, the zoo takes different precautions during the winter, Hansen said. Animals from the African Savanna, for example, are different from the Asian big cats.
“A lot of our exhibits are designed with heated concrete and overhead heat,” Hansen said.
Weber State zoology professor Patrice Kurnath Connors has focused her research on the stress warm environments can have on mammals.
“I would guess that any stress that zoo animals might experience during our winter climate in Utah does not negatively impact them in a substantial way,” Connors said. “In fact, warmer temperatures are much more energetically stressful than colder temperatures for mammals in general, because it is physiologically harder for mammals to dissipate heat than it is for mammals to stay warm at colder temperatures.”
Connors said it’s easy to house indoors the smaller animals that come from different climates, and most zoos have procedures for larger animals.
“For many of these larger animals, having access to different climates (like) snow is actually a great form of enrichment,” Connors said. “I’m sure animals that are endemic to colder climates, like the polar bears and the red pandas, are loving our winter climate.”
Hansen said coming to the zoo during the winter months or the off-peak season can be one of the best experiences because of the small crowd and winter animals that guests might not usually see, like the Siberian tigers, snow leopards and polar bears.
Big crowds can create white noise which makes the animals retreat, according to Hansen, but during the winter the animals tend to be more social with less noise.
“Our African lions have heated concrete too, which is right up by the glass,” Hansen said. “They love to come out on winter days and just nap right on the warm concrete.”
Hansen said the zookeepers are most careful with the giraffes during the winter, as they have to protect them from slipping and potentially breaking a limb because they have such long legs. The giraffes tend to stay in the barn when it’s cooler.
Zoo patron Annie Warren recently bought an annual season pass for her family.
“I enjoy visiting the zoo during winter since there are typically a lot less people than during the summer,” Warren said. “I chose to buy a season pass because my husband and I have a toddler, and the zoo is an excellent way to provide an educational outing for him.”
Warren recently attended Zoo Lights, one of the winter events the zoo hosts during the Christmas season. She said it was fun but cold.
“The animals are a lot heartier than you think,” Hansen said. “Even the zebras can come out and they love to chase each other through the snow, which is something people don’t expect to see. Our zebras are Hartmann’s mountain zebras and they come from a more mountainous region.”
The big cats of Asian Highlands are at their best during the winter, Hansen said. They grow two extra inches of fur — the colder the weather the better. During the summer, the zoo is sometimes forced to keep them cool.
Protecting the animals and taking necessary precautions during certain seasons is a year-round endeavor for zookeepers.
“We try and keep these animals as acclimated as possible,” Hansen said.