Blizzard impact on zoo, wildlife

HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) — People aren’t the only ones impacted by snow. When a blizzard dumped more than 30 inches on the Midstate over the weekend, many of the animals at ZooAmerica North American Wildlife Park in Hershey got a treat.

“The wolves love it. The wolves are racing around in it,” said Dale Snyder, ZooAmerica’s general curator. “The deer were out running around, jumping in it. They’re very playful when it first starts.”

0D29D1B6D9BA4BF79C760008035DC5D2Snyder says while it’s natural for people to feel concerned for the animals during a large weather event, most of the animals at ZooAmerica are accustomed to snowy conditions in their native habitat.

“The northland animals love the cold and the winter, so this is their favorite season,” he said. “They’re equipped to take care of it, just like the Canada lynx has huge pads on its paws to let them move across the top of the snow, they have thick fur coats.”

In nature, a harsh winter or quick moving blizzard can offer challenges to wildlife. For instance, white-tailed deer, which forage for food on the ground during the winter months, could be hindered by thick snow cover or ice. Birds of prey such as hawks and eagles, which rely partially on rabbits and ground rodents, may have to change their diet to include more birds and tree dwelling squirrels. Young and injured animals are very likely not to survive in extreme conditions.

8776F9178BE54686A99A409E156265B7“Sometimes the winter is the roughest season for many of the animals out in the wild, and unfortunately in the wild, it’s survival of the fittest,” Snyder said. “Many of them have that survival instinct and they know a big storm is coming. A lot of time, they’ll eat a lot of food ahead of time, they’ll find a protected area where there’s a lot of trees where they can hunker down and wait until the worst is over.”

At the zoo, blizzard protocol included removing the porcupines from their open-topped pen. Staff members were concerned that snow drifts could become big enough to enable the animals to climb out. Doors leading to protected indoor dens also were opened so that an animal seeking shelter would have somewhere to go. Not surprisingly, Snyder says most of the animals chose to stay out in the elements.

DA794B9408C54EB582020B8D1AC499E0As that behavior continues, he says its a great time to visit the zoo to see familiar animals against a beautiful white backdrop, and the timing couldn’t be better. This weekend, January 30-31 from 10-4:30 p.m., admission to ZooAmerica is free to the public.

“It’s so easy to see them now against the snow, and they’re actually a lot more active in the colder weather,” Snyder said. “Its actually a super time to visit a zoo. You get to see the animals better, it isn’t as crowded, and the animals are usually right there where you need to see them.”

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