As Winter Storm Jonas makes its way up the East Coast, zoos are among the many institutions buckling down to make sure their residents are safe. And barring any damage from the storm, some animals are in for quite the frosty treat.
“For animals that thrive in the snow, they’re going to have a field day,” Kevin Murphy, general curator of the Philadelphia Zoo, told The Huffington Post.
The Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C., echoed that outlook on its website, saying that “just like humans, some animals seem to revel in cold weather and snowfall.”
Although animals such as polar bears and pandas are used to snowy conditions in the wild, the ones that reside in zoos become accustomed to the local climate. Polar bears can even lead a healthy life in a Mediterranean climate, as they do in the San Diego Zoo. But snow storms like Jonas give these majestic animals a chance to indulge their natural snow-loving ways.
Murphy called the nearing snow storm, the first of the year, a potentially “enriching experience” for the Philadelphia Zoo’s polar bear and red pandas.
Many zoos are still preparing for the worst. Snowmageddon ’15 wreaked havoc across the northeast, with wind gusts up to 60 mph and up to 20 inches of snow seen in some areas. That storm was estimated to cost the economy over $1 billion, a small fraction of the $15 billion in damage from 2014’s polar vortex.
This year, many zoos aren’t taking any chances.
“We’re preparing for the possibility of [staff] staying overnight,” Murphy said. “We have a skeletal crew ready to be here 24/7 if we need to.”
The Philadelphia Zoo narrowly avoided disaster last year when a mass heating failure occurred during a storm. Fortunately, the zoo was able to call in one of its full-time heating mechanics to set up a giant generator. Most of the animals “never even noticed,” Murphy said.
The National Zoo is also preparing for the sudden drop in temperature.
Since many of the animals’ habitats are either winterized or indoors, the most difficult task would not be keeping the animals safe but removing the snow, Murphy said.
Maryland Zoo General Curator Mike McClure similarly felt that the animal residents will weather the storm just fine. His biggest concern is the zoo’s staff, he said. “They endure the hardship just to make sure the animals are cared for and their lives are uninterrupted.”
The Maryland Zoo has doubled up on food, medications for animal treatments, bedding and other necessary supplies and has enlisted nearly 30 staff to monitor and maintain the zoo throughout the weekend as they “ride out the storm.”
“We have to be really diligent to monitor each other,” McClure added. “Keeping everyone dry and warm is a big concern for us.”
All Maryland Zoo animals will be kept indoors during the height of the storm. But once the storm passes and staff can confirm all facilities are intact, McClure said animals that are “well-suited” for this type of weather will be permitted to frolic in the snow.
“She’ll definitely have a good time,” McClure said about the zoo’s only polar bear.
The National Zoo is closed for the weekend but will likely resume normal business hours come Monday:
Murphy expects the Philadelphia Zoo to stay open as usual on Friday but acknowledges that Saturday’s schedule is still up in the frigid air.
And while he recognizes that the potential blizzard could provide a challenge for some, Murphy admits he’s “actually excited for it.”
If you’re excited, too, but can’t get to a zoo, catch a glimpse of the National Zoo’s giant pandas enjoying their first snow day of the year on the zoo’s live webcam.
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