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Zoo animals, staff weather this week's winter storm with little difficulty

Thursday, January 9, 2014 - 6:29 am

It took extra effort by staff, but the Fort Wayne Children's Zoo and its animals successfully weathered this week's winter storm and arctic temperatures.

“Everything has made it through,” said Cheryl Piropato, education and communications director for the zoo, which is located in Franke Park off Sherman Boulevard.

The maintenance crew stayed busy all day Sunday keeping up with snow removal, and then slept at the zoo Sunday night so they could make sure everything stayed working, Piropato said. Maintenance workers also brought in extra heaters, where needed, to keep animals warm.

One big concern for the zoo is a power outage, Piropato said. Loss of power could impact the aeration and filtering systems for animals living in indoor aquariums and water exhibits.

The zoo has emergency generators to supply power in case of an outage, she said, but maintenance workers wanted to make sure the generators worked properly, if needed. The zoo never lost power, however.

The weather also made it difficult for some zookeepers to get to the zoo to care for animals, so one staff member went out in a four-wheel-drive vehicle to pick them up, Piropato said. Maintenance staff members also have had to deal with some frozen water pipes.

The zoo has not had any problem feeding its more than 1,000 animals.

Grain and fish are delivered by the ton, Piropato said, and fresh produce is delivered a couple of times a week.

“We have plenty of stuff in the fridge,” she said.

Only a few zoo animals stay outside year-round, and they also seem OK.

The red pandas, which are native to the Himalaya mountains in Asia, have a shelter they can enter, but they may not have bothered to use it, Piropato said.

“They are pretty much undeterred by the cold,” she said.

Maintenance staff normally use straw bales to build a few shelters for the peacocks, which also stay out all year, Piropato said. With the subzero temperatures and dangerous wind chills predicted for this past Monday and Tuesday, maintenance workers built a few extra shelters for the birds on Sunday, including one in the vestibule of the restrooms near the zoo entrance plaza.

On one of the days, a few birds stood in the vestibule shelter, but 15 sat out on the snow nearby, sunning themselves and seemingly unconcerned about the bitter cold, Piropato said.