Chattanooga Zoo helps animals adapt in all types of weather - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

WEATHER AT WORK

Chattanooga Zoo helps animals adapt in all types of weather

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -

Rain or shine… hot or cold… the animals at the zoo experience it all along with the rest of us.

The cold and heat each present their own set of challenges, so it’s important that they keep a close eye on the forecast to help the animals adapt.

“We are always aware of weather coming and always prepare accordingly for that,” said Chattanooga Zoo general curator Stacy Laberdee.

Cold weather can be particularly challenging, especially when temperatures drop below freezing.

“When it starts to get down into the teens and if it reaches zero degrees overnight, things like that, for a lot of these animals they’re not used to that kind of temperature,” Laberdee said. “They don’t have the natural adaptation to be able to handle it. So it’s having to coordinate, just making sure they’re comfortable and able to tolerate the weather.”

When frigid temperatures move in, zookeepers bring some animals inside, but keep others warm with a few extra comforts such as space heaters, heat lamps, and extra bedding. They also keep a close watch over animals that don’t mind the cold to make sure they aren’t exposed to it for too long.

Like humans, a good snowfall will keep some animals hunkered down inside where it's warm, but draw others out to play. Red pandas and snow leopards particularly enjoy it, along with the white-tailed deer. Others, like the chimpanzees, have adapted to it.

“They like to gather and eat it and do all that kind of fun stuff. We’ll make snowmen for them that they can come and knock around and destroy, which is a fun activity for them,” Laberdee said.

Summer heat is a different story, even for animals accustomed to warmer habitats.

“When it’s really, really hot I don’t think any of the animals enjoy that,” Laberdee said. “You think about it, in the wild, even in the warmer climates, they have ways of getting out of the extreme heat. So [they go] into the cooler forests and under the trees and shade or live by a source of water like a river of something of that kind to keep cool.”

However, Laberdee says managing the heat can be a little easier and more fun. Like humans, the zoo turns to frozen treats, pools of water and shade to help the animals cope.

“We always offer them things, you know, animals can still get overheated and too hot, and it can be a health risk for them.”

When severe weather is in the forecast, animals give clues that it’s on the way.

“They do get spooked, just like dogs and cats in your homes do. They’ll try to hide or you can tell they’re just more nervous and skittish and they might be kind of more active around their exhibit, but in a nervous sense because they can sense that coming,” Laberdee said.

Zookeepers act quickly to move the animals to a safe place for their well-being and the safety of others.

“We try to bring our animals inside to safe places as much as we can and as much as we’re able to,” Laberdee said. “Especially some of the dangerous animals that we have: chimpanzees, jaguars, cougars, snow leopards. We would pull those guys off right away, off their exhibit, in case something were to happen to their exhibit they would be safely locked in their building and we wouldn’t have a dangerous animal escape situation.”

If severe weather strikes when guests are in the zoo, the staff also executes plans to protect them as much as possible. They’ll bring guests into secure buildings designed to withstand severe weather. If there’s enough advance notice, administrators will shut down the zoo to help keep people safe and enable them to focus their attention on tending to the animals.

The zoo is open 362 days a year, so keepers are prepared to work in all kinds of weather.

“It’s expected that you’re going to work in all elements of the weather. You’re going to work in the cold, you’re going to work in the heat, so our staff is prepared for that. We just plan it day to day,” said Laberdee.

Laberdee says less ideal weather, such as cold, rainy days – or even snow -- can actually be a good time to visit the zoo. Not only are there fewer crowds, but some animals behave differently and visitors can observe interactions they might not normally see.

No matter what their native climate, Laberdee says like humans, most animals are happiest without extremes.

“I think that a lot of our animals are probably like us, where they like maybe that perfect 80-degree day, where it’s not too hot, not too cold. That’s probably where they like it best.”

The Chattanooga Zoo is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the exception of Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year's Day. You can find information about ticket pricing and exhibits on the zoo’s website

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