We’re accustomed to cold winters in Chicago, but this week offered something else entirely. Record-low temperatures and Arctic winds caused much of the city to be shut down. While Lincoln Park Zoo remained open through the freeze, we took every step to ensure our animals—and people—were safe.
That’s not to say everyone made it in to work on Monday and Tuesday. In the interest of safety, we asked our non–animal care staff to stay home…and stay warm. As they always do, though, our caregivers rose to the occasion, making the icy commute to ensure Lincoln Park Zoo’s animals had everything they needed.
Our animal care staff experienced more of the cold than the animals themselves, as most of the wildlife dodged the deep freeze indoors. Polar bear Anana got plenty of attention for waiting out the polar vortex in her den—that bit of news traveled all the way from a local DNAinfo report to CNN, Good Morning America and broadcasts in the Netherlands, United Kingdom and Australia. Anana even got a mention in Jay Leno’s opening monologue, as you can see in the clip below at the 1:05 mark.
Of course, Anana wasn’t the only one who opted to stay indoors. As it turned out, a few birds were the only ones to brave the elements. (As a former Curator of Birds, that makes me proud.) Our snowy owls and bald eagles showed off their Arctic adaptations. Similarly, our trumpeter swans and ducks stayed warm, as they prefer, on the unfrozen waters of the Hope B. McCormick Swan Pond.
The snowy owls at Regenstein Birds of Prey Exhibit were among the few animals to brave the polar vortex.
All around them, zoo staffers were doing the work that needed to be done. Exhibits had been prepped as thoroughly as possible the night before, but keepers still had to make sure every animal was stocked and fed. The zoo’s facilities staff spent a cold, early morning shoveling sidewalks and clearing doorways to ensure animal experts could get to work. Veterinarians did their rounds, commissary technicians prepped meals—and everyone took time to warm up as they needed it.
Aside from snowdrifts and icy winds, it was largely a normal day. There were a few differences, of course. With every animal indoors at the Antelope & Zebra Area, caregivers had to plan six moves ahead to shift them all to clean the stalls. A large pump was installed at the Swan Pond to keep the water circulating. And while we closed the zoo early, sending most staff home around 3 p.m., the West Gate didn’t want to cooperate at first, trying its best to freeze in place.
But we made it through the cold thanks to our amazing employees. I really appreciate their commitment. They did a great job, even if nobody was out to see it…not even the polar bear.