Anyone who has ever worked with animals or had a pet knows it’s not all feeding, playing, and interacting. There are messes to clean, animal personality quirks to learn, and a lifelong commitment made to health and welfare. For the keepers here at Lincoln Park Zoo, this is no exception…and add to the equation that most of the animals live outdoors. When winter storms like the polar vortex hit Chicago and temperatures feel as low as -50, the keepers still don their equipment and happy faces and care for the 200 species at the zoo.
Of course, given these extreme temperatures, most of the animals are in their inside habitats or behind-the-scenes spaces, waiting out the storm in warm areas, dens, nests, and barns. There are a handful of species that can thrive in these frigid temperatures that continue to have outdoor access and are choosing to spend their time outside even as the winds pick up, such as the polar bears, snow leopard, Eurasian lynx, snowy owl, bald eagle and many waterfowl.
Those species are built for this climate with evolution on their side. Polar bears have inches of blubber, snow leopard fur acts as a thick blanket, and waterfowl use the open water as a source of warmth when the air temps dip.
But the keepers? While humans aren’t quite built for this cold, our committed animal care staff are truly built for their role as caretakers. They are some of the most dedicated people we know, with the largest hearts, and they are the fiercest friends to wildlife.
While the zoo remains closed to the public Wednesday and Thursday, the care and grounds crew are tirelessly working to keep the animals and the zoo safe. From going into the water and breaking up ice for the birds, to plowing away inches of snow, to delivering food from the Nutrition Center to the animals, our animals and institution couldn’t safely weather this cold without our mighty team. To see just what we mean, check out a roundup of photos and videos of staff taking this challenge head-on in our latest blog here.
We are so incredibly thankful for our staff here at the zoo that keep this space safe and warm.
For Wildlife. For All.
Megan Ross, Ph.D., Zoo Director
Kevin Bell, President & CEO