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Zookeeping in the sub-zero cold: How the NEW Zoo operates 365 days a year

Posted at 8:46 PM, Jan 05, 2023
and last updated 2023-01-05 21:46:43-05

SUAMICO — Meet Tutti the tortoise. Tutti loves being outside, but today, she's spending the day indoors, as she typically does in the winter thanks to the below freezing temperatures.

She can be found at the NEW Zoo in Suamico, which is open 365 days a year. This provides many unique challenges when operating in the extreme winter weather conditions in Northeast Wisconsin.

"It definitely impacts the way we care for our animals," Carmen Murach, NEW Zoo Director, said. "You burn more calories when you deal with keeping yourself warm in really cold weather, so we have to adjust diets to make sure animals can metabolically deal with colder temperatures."

Some other changes the zoo makes in the winter include bringing animals like tropical birds or the alligator inside and readjusting habitats.

"A lot of deep straw...insulating straw beds. We can add heated mats for them, and we also use a red heat bulb above a lot of the animals for them to stand under," Drew Dinehart, a zookeeper at the NEW Zoo, said.

Murach said they always have to be alert of potential winter storms, and the freezing temperatures are just as difficult for the zookeepers who are working outside all day. However, she said they make it fun.

"We make snowmen sometimes if the snow conditions are right. The animals love to knock those around or play with those," Murach said. "We do all kinds of silly things."

Some of the animals you can expect to see outside in the winter are snow monkeys, red pandas and snowy owls. Murach said you can even see African Lions outside still at this time of year.

Murach added that even the animals that are brought inside for the winter are still viewable to guests too, and ultimately, zookeepers and staff are more than prepared for whatever winter throws their way.

"There's a long, long list of little things we do to make sure the animals are comfortable and healthy," Murach said.

Murach said it's worthwhile to "bundle up" and check out the zoo in the winter when it's not as busy because guests can get a more "personable" experience with the animals. Zoo admission is half-off from now until February 28.