With snowmen and movies, animals at Utah’s Hogle Zoo have differing approaches to wintertime

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Courtesy of Utah’s Hogle Zoo

SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Six-month-old Archie took his first look at the white, powdery substance that covered his home, unsure of how to proceed.

He had never before seen snow.

The rest of his family knew all about the changing seasons. His dad, Scooby, was a veteran of playing around in the snow, as was his mom, Poppy. Both charged ahead into the yard, along with Archie’s brother, thrilled to enjoy the first major snowfall of the year.

After a minute, Archie took his first step into the snow and quickly followed the rest of his family, prancing and playing in the snow.

Turns out, Archie, a Hartmann’s mountain zebra living at Utah’s Hogle Zoo, was made for the wintertime. This probably contradicts the image some might have of the black-and-white striped animals roaming the extremely snow-less plains of Africa.

“You know, there are a lot of people who think that. You see on Animal Planet, you see the Grevy’s and Plains zebras, but the Hartmann’s mountain zebras are found in southwest Angola, Namibia, and even South Africa and those elevations can get upwards of 6,600 feet,” Michelle Olandese, an Animal Care Supervisor at the zoo’s African Savannah region explains to ABC4.com. “They’re actually suited for higher elevations.”

Equipped with hoofs that are thicker and more pointed, Hartmann’s mountain zebras like Archie are genetically geared to living in the mountains, or in the little guy’s case, stomping through the fresh snow in his enclosure.

For many of the animals at Hogle Zoo, wintertime can be one of the most welcomed times of the year. The Amur Tigers, who make their home up at the Asian Highlands portion of the park are noticeably more active during a time of year when some humans would rather stay home and do nothing but wait out the cold.

Melanie Kuse, who supervises the animals in the Asian Highlands, says that big cat lovers are always in for a treat when the snow arrives.

“I always tell guests that the best day to come to the zoo is the day that we have the very first real snow of the season because that is when they’re going to be a lot more active,” she says of her tigers, leopards, lynx, and Pallas cats. “They’re going to be up moving around. They tend to interact with their enrichment a lot more during the wintertime.”

By enrichment, Kuse refers to any activities that brighten the animals’ day or give them a chance to exercise and play. A year-round daily focus for the zookeepers, the enrichment in the wintertime can hilariously take on the same themes and fun that humans enjoy in the snow. It’s common for the keepers to build a snowman, complete with facial features made of meat, for the big cats to pounce on and attack.

“They’re going to be more active the winter, and they’re going to want to ambush something,” she explains. “They’re ambush predators. They’re gonna wait and when that prey item is in front of them, they’re gonna jump out and attack… watching them from the outside and getting to see them in their element is really exciting. That’s our favorite part of the year.”

Of course, not all the animals at the zoo are as fond of winter as the big cats and the zebra family. Those creatures who are ill-suited for the climate, such as the lions and giraffes take a more indoorsy-approach to the holiday season.

The giraffes, in particular, don’t get out too much, especially on very cold or wet days. Even though their enclosure is complete with a heated concrete pad, they’re still at risk of a catastrophic fall on the ice. Therefore, their wintertime enrichment can mean time spent in their heated barn, watching movies.

You read that right. Some animals at Hogle Zoo stay inside and watch movies on snowy days every so often. The moving pictures and sounds can make for great entertainment, although Olandese laughs that one of the giraffes, Riley, prefers to just look out the window instead.

The lions have already had a couple of movie night parties (Is a Lion King joke too obvious here?), but also get the chance to explore the snow just a bit when the keepers bring a little bit inside for them to play with.

“For the animals that don’t see it because of their heating parameters, we’ll bring piles of snow in for them as enrichment,” Olandese says. “If they can’t go out and go out and enjoy it. We can bring it into them in small capacities.”

Getting through the winter is just a part of the challenges that zookeepers at the Utah-based facility are used to. Some animals, like Archie and his family, clearly enjoy the season but others, not so much.

“I would say any animal that’s not acclimated to it, or like naturally made for it, they’re not going to like it and they’re going to hide and try to curl up and be as warm as possible,” Olandese explains.

And apparently, browse through whatever’s on Netflix or Hulu at the moment. Maybe humans and zoo animals aren’t so different after all.

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