Zoos are known for being home to animals that come from all over the world. Many animals at the Roosevelt Park Zoo, for example, are from warm climates.
Some of them love the cold, and some don’t. So what happens to those animals that thrive in warm weather during the winter?
All of the animals stay at the zoo year-round.
“If they’re warm weather like Akili, they will stay in their barns that have temperature control,” said Zookeeper Taylor Rafferty. “So we have heaters and we have exhaust to make sure everything stays nice and clean and then the correct humidity as well.”
Akili is a 22-year-old okapi. He and his ancestors are native to the Republic of Congo.
It’s warm and humid there, so once temperatures begin to drop in North Dakota, Akili goes inside for the season.
“When it’s about that 45 degrees feels like, he can be outside,” said Rafferty. “So, and as long as there’s no snow or anything, he can be outside as well.”
Akili is the only okapi at the zoo, but that’s nothing new since okapis are solitary in the wild.
In order to keep him engaged, zookeepers have different enrichment activities for him.
“We have some different things hung up in his barn right now,” said Rafferty. “One of them over there is called the orbiter, and that would be an object that we can either put perfume or let’s say like peanut butter or even just nothing on it and just put it up. It’s something new for them to look at. Like I said, he uses his tongue to engage with his environment so he will just stand there and lick at it and watch it move around.”
Rafferty says it’s important for zookeepers to interact with the animals, especially when they’re inside, so they can stay engaged even when there aren’t zoo visitors around.
“It really makes it special when you can have this connection with an animal, just like this, and they appreciate you and you appreciate them,” said Rafferty. “And you can know that you can trust each other.”
Zoo visitors can still see the Okapi in the colder months. There’s a viewing window outside of his barn.
The Roosevelt Park Zoo also supports the Okapi Conservation Project which helps protect okapis and their habitats in the Republic of Congo.
People can also bring their old electronics to recycle at the zoo so that their habitats aren’t destroyed due to the demand for coltan.