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Santa Fe Zoo Animals Get Heaters, Blankets For Cold Weather

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The hawk headed parrot perches by its heat box at the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo.
The hawk headed parrot perches by its heat box at the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo.” credit=”Alyssa Fisher / WUFT News

While Squirt was excited by the recent freezing temperatures, galloping around his enclosure and acting friskier than usual, others were not quite so enthused.

Squirt, a guanaco similar to a llama, was born to face the unseasonably cold weather. As he welcomed the cooler winds to Gainesville, other animals at the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo are requiring extra care to keep warm.

Because temperatures have been fluctuating, the animals at the zoo are having trouble getting used to the cold weather.

Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo senior Courtney Copestake works by the capuchin monkey area, which is covered with wood paneling and plastic.
Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo senior Courtney Copestake works by the capuchin monkey area, which is covered with wood paneling and plastic.” credit=”Alyssa Fisher / WUFT News

Birds and primates are given heat lamps when the temperature is below 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and the staff checks the weather every day to come up with the procedures for each species.

“The primates carry blankets around with them,” said Katerina Bonaldi, a student at Santa Fe Teaching Zoo. “It’s adorable.”

When there is a hard freeze and temperatures drop to the 20s and 30s, heat lamps and blankets are not enough. Most of the birds are brought inside. The students and staff put them wherever there was room, from the Herp House with the reptiles to the educational building. One week ago, low temperatures kept the birds inside for four days.

The primates spent nights inside the smaller houses they wait in while their enclosures are being cleaned. Some wood paneling was stapled to the side and plastic was pulled over to seal in the warmth and block the wind.

When the wind chill got too high, trash bags were used to make a tarp, something Copestake said is not usually done and something she had never seen before.

The squirrel monkeys in particular had to be taken off display. Prone to frostbite, they had to have constant heat.

“They won’t go to the heat boxes,” Copestake said. “They’re not the smartest.”

The staff also took precautionary measures to ensure the reptiles were safe from the cold temperatures.

“Because they are cold-blooded, they need the heat sources, and when it’s cold outside, they can’t get it,” she said. “They have to have heat more readily available to them than some of the other animals that are able to control their body heat.”

While the the temperature fluctuates, zoo staff gauges each exhibit with a laser thermometer to make sure the animals are at an ideal temperature.

“There’s a fine line between warm enough and too warm,” said Tarah Jacobs, Santa Fe College’s conservation education specialist. “Reptiles’ metabolism will speed up if temperatures get too high inside.”

During the day most animals get put back on display. Those with fur, such as primates and deer, fluff it out and lie in the sun to get warm.

To avoid making the habitats colder, the staff cleans the enclosures without spraying them down as much as in the warmer months.

“Spot cleaning has no effect (on) the animals,” Jacobs said. “The enclosures are still clean. When it’s below 40 degrees, we just don’t spray as much water so nothing is too cold and wet.”

Dietary changes are also used to help animals with the colder weather. The staff keeps the birds warm by increasing their portion of dry food, which increases their energy. On Sunday night, their food was increased by 50 percent.

As the zoo staff prepares to make changes in the animals’ diets and locations throughout the remainder of the season, Squirt appears unfazed by the cold and content in his pen.

“He loves it,” Copestake said. “It’s like home for him.”

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