Expert Advice
by Scott Silver
Dec 08, 2009 | 2789 views | 0 0 comments | 43 43 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As the fall turns to winter, I thought I would tell you a little bit about how the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Queens Zoo changes along with it. Like every season, the change brings new challenges to the people who take care of the zoo animals, as well as the changes in the animals themselves.

The Queens Zoo is a bit different from most zoos in that we have no indoor exhibits. That means that the animals we have need to be able to handle the New York weather every day of the year.

If you were one of the hundreds of thousands of people who visited the zoo this summer, think about the animals you saw: the bison, the sea lions, the coyotes or the mountain lions. Every one of them is still here, and is able to live comfortably with the extreme cold temperatures of winter, or the equally extreme heat of a Queens summer.

When you remember the most terrible snow storms of the last few years, or some of the heavy, violent thunderstorms of the summer, remember the animal residents of the Queens Zoo, and the people who care for them, were here and coping with the most extreme weather.

That’s not too say there aren’t some tricks for helping animals in the extreme heat or the extreme cold. A lot of our animals have heat lamps or hot rocks or nest boxes to use on the coldest days of winter.

We also make a point of providing a lot of extra bedding (hay, straw, or wood chips for example) for animals during the cold spells of December, January and February. This bedding acts as a blanket, holding heat in against the zoo animal’s body when it lays down or rests on top of it. A nice thick layer of straw under a shelter can go a long way for our sheep and goats here at the zoo.

Some animals also exhibit a major change in diet as seasons change. Our big bull sea lions rely a great deal on their blubber-like fat deposits to help them deal with the cold water in their exhibit pool during the winter, and as a result, they eat as much as 30 pounds of fish each per day building that up. By contrast, in the middle of the summer when their minds are far away from winter, they may eat only a couple of pounds worth of fish per day for large stretches of time.

Birds also require extra food to help them generate enough heat to combat the cold of winter. Feathers are good insulation, but insulation is only as good as the heat it contains close to the body, and birds need extra food to generate that heat.

So later on this winter, if you find yourself sitting by the window watching the snow fall with a cup of hot chocolate in your hands, think of the animals here at the zoo and how they are faring snuggled up in a pile of woodchips or in a nest box. Or better yet, if it’s a nice winter’s day and not too cold, come out to the Queens zoo and see for yourself!

Scott Silver is the director of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Queens Zoo.

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