It might be cold this week, but the weather's just fine for some animals at the Akron Zoo.
Zookeepers make sure to provide a variety of ways for animals to stay warm on days like Thursday, when the high temperature for Akron was 10 degrees but felt like subzero temperatures because of the wind chill.
Mark Schneider, the primary keeper for the zoo’s snow leopards and jaguars, said the snow leopards — male Tai Lung and female Shanti — would be fine in the single-digit and subzero temperatures the area’s seen this week.
But the zoo keeps them inside because they share an indoor enclosure space with the jaguars — mother Naom and daughter Bella — who can’t tolerate those temperatures.
“Even opening the door to let them out and let them back in is such a blast of cold air that we're not even doing it,” Schneider, 35, said Thursday of the snow leopards, which are native to the high mountainous regions of Asia. “So even though they could go out, they're in today.”
When the cats do go out, they have a heated rock and a log shelter with straw bedding to stay warm. Schneider said Tai Lung was in the outside enclosure Wednesday.
“He was up top where it's, like, the windiest and was fine with it,” Schneider said.
Schneider, who’s worked for the zoo about nine years, added it’s especially important to keep the cold air out because while Bella is younger and would probably be OK, Naom is older and would have a harder time tolerating cooler air.
“That's why we want to take the extra precautions with not putting the snow leopards out,” he said. “She's [Bella] younger, so we don't have to worry too much about temps for her, but still, it's a precaution.”
The zoo’s waterfowl, who stay on a pond near the entrance, float on a heated, 45-degree pond, so it doesn’t freeze over. Keepers count them each morning and evening to make sure they’re all accounted for and safe, with no ice on their beaks.
Wild animal keeper Becky Mansel, 37, who’s been with the zoo about nine months, said as of Thursday afternoon, there were 54 birds on the pond.
“We give these guys extra straw, make sure our pond's not freezing over,” Mansel said.
Zookeepers also take time to do work inside when the weather gets as cold as it’s been this week.
A group of keepers were working in the pygmy slow loris exhibit, adding red lights to the enclosure.
Along with the snow leopards and waterfowl, the zoo’s grizzly bears, wolves, snowy owls, coyotes and Himalayan tahr are also safe to keep on exhibit in this kind of weather.
The keepers still make sure the animals have ways to stay warm, with heated rocks, extra bedding or inside access. Those who can’t tolerate the weather are brought inside.
But just because some of the animals like this kind of weather doesn’t mean it’s ideal for their keepers.
Mansel explained the key to keeping warm while caring for the animals.
“Layers. Lots and lots of layers. Always some kind of hat, gloves. I actually have two [sets of] gloves on. Something in front of my face. Waterproof boots. But it's pretty much layers.”
Emily Mills can be reached at 330-996-3334, firstname.lastname@example.org and @EmilyMills818.