An obvious question asked is how do our animals tolerate the Canadian winters? The lions seem to be the animal people are most concerned about. Lions live in Africa, so one assumes them to be heat loving animals with little tolerance for cold.
For the most part, GuZoo limits its animal collection to animals who can safely tolerate our cold Canadian winters. But we have made a few exceptions. We have a number of species who absolutely cannot remain outside during our winters. Some of these animal are; the African Serval Cat, the Cabybara, some of the primates, the Zebu Cattle and the Watusi Cattle. These animals are given winter living arrangements in a heated facility that allows for outdoor exposure on the warmer days of the winter. Much of Alberta enjoys a weather phenomenon called a Chinook, a severe warming of the air brought in by a westerly wind from the neighboring mountains. On these days, the cattle, Serval Cat and others can be permitted outside for some warm sunshine and fresh air.
As for the lions and tigers you ask? Well, most people are familiar with the subspecies of tiger known as the Siberian Tiger. Siberian Tigers are native to Siberia (sorry for being so obvious) and it gets really cold in Siberia, even colder than in Canada. So you need not worry that tigers in Canada are feeling the frost. Yes, there are also Bengal Tigers, native to India (a very warm place). This just goes to show how versatile tiger are. Regardless of the subspecies, a tiger is a tiger and they are very well adapted to our winters. I personally feel the tigers prefer our winter months to our summer months. I have seen our female Siberian Tiger Bridget, sprawled out on her frozen pond of ice on days where temperatures are below zero. She could have chosen to lie on the straw in various areas of her enclosure, but she chooses the ice.
Lions, believe it or not, actually like our winters also. Yes, lions are native to Africa and Asia…now. But many generations ago, lions existed all over Europe and the Americas. It is believed they were hunted to extinction except on the continent of Africa. Lions live only in Africa by force, not by choice. In fact, it is not difficult to see how the wild lions of Africa suffer from the heat. They are almost exclusively nocturnal, to avoid the heat of the day. In addition, they have adapted by growing less dense fur, especially the males. The mane of a wild African male lion is half as full and covers far less body then lions in captivity raised in colder climates. Lions, like the tiger can also adapt. When you visit us, take an extra long look at our male lion’s mane. You will see that his mane is very full, giving the appearance of bulk and height and it extends under his belly all the way to his groin area. Wild African male lions will not have their mane extend past their shoulders.
There are animals at our zoo that need special consideration for the winter months. Extra feed with high energy value is fed to many of the herbivores. This helps them maintain body condition during the cold months. Extra straw is distributed in late fall to be used for bedding. Some of the domestics, such as the pygmy goats and Jacob sheep like to give birth early in the year (January, February). This becomes a scramble for GuZoo staff to find the animals about to give birth and get them into a barn, out of the cold. Once the babies are a couple days old and sucking well, they can be turned outside again (that is of course if the weather is relatively mild).
Some of the carnivore may loose some condition over the winter months. The reason being is that frozen food is harder to eat then non frozen food. Although fresh meat is fed out, it may not always be consumed in its entirety before it freezes. A fox or coyote (or lion or tiger) must expend more energy to consume and digest frozen food. But, rest easy knowing that during the summer months, captive carnivores have life pretty darn good, and can easily make up for a small condition loss.
Don’t feel bad for the animals in the winter, they are much better suited to tolerate the cold temperatures then you might think. Instead, give our poor zoo keepers some sympathy. Regardless of the weather conditions, they must trample through snow, struggle with frozen locks, numb fingers and fight with the feed tractor which often chooses not to start on the REALLY cold days. Having to dress in layer upon layer of clothing makes movement all that more laborious. Shoveling snow out of gates and walkways, making necessary repairs to damage caused by board breaking winter winds, and trekking out into the various pastures to check that the automatic waterers have not froze up, are just some of the hardships of winter Believe me; the winter is harder on the humans at the zoo than the animals.