FROM ZOO TO YOU

By Emily Sexson

Caring for animals through the winter months

One of the things I appreciate about living in southwest Kansas is that we get to experience all four seasons. The long-standing joke is that sometimes we experience spring, summer, fall, and winter conditions all in the same day. While I do enjoy the seasonal changes, a bright spring morning, or a lazy summer afternoon, I will admit, the colder seasons are my favorite. The changing colors of autumn bring in the cooler temperatures, delivering us to our coldest time of year: winter.

In Garden City, we’ve already experienced snow and ice, but the first official day of winter isn’t until Monday, Dec. 21. Also known as the winter solstice, this first day of winter takes place in the Northern Hemisphere when the Earth’s most northern point is tilted furthest away from the sun. While we’re experiencing winter conditions in the north, the Southern Hemisphere is tilted closest to the sun undergoing its summer solstice. The winter solstice is the shortest day (hours of daylight) in the year. The period of daylight in the following days gets longer until we reach the summer solstice, the day with the most hours of daylight.

Less exposure to the sun means colder temperatures across the hemisphere. The coldest month for Garden City is usually January, with the average high landing around 44.1 degrees Fahrenheit and the low dropping to 17.8 degrees. January also happens to be our driest month of the year, with less than 0.3” precipitation on average. With these conditions, everyone must take precautions to make sure they stay safe and warm, including our staff here at the zoo. Not only do we have to make sure we stay healthy, but the animals in our care as well.

For many of the animals at Lee Richardson Zoo, 17.8 degrees Fahrenheit isn’t a big concern. They have amazing adaptations that allow them to survive much colder, harsher weather. For example, Bactrian camels are native to the rocky deserts of Central and East Asia where temperatures drop to -20 degrees. Like their counterparts in the wild, Bactrian camel ambassadors KJ and Mona grow thick, shaggy coats during the winter to keep them nice and warm. While KJ and Mona do have their fur to keep them warm, our animal care staff also provides them with a clean and warm barn to shelter in if they choose to, as well as plenty of food and fresh water.

Staff at the zoo create safe habitats for every single animal in our care. Some of our residents could not survive the winters of southwest Kansas without our help. For example, even the Madagascar hissing cockroaches are provided with the appropriate food, water, shelter, and space. The cockroaches receive fresh produce, their housing rests partially on a heating pad, and we check humidity levels to make sure their habitat conditions are like that of the rainforest they are native to. While our cockroach colony represents a very small portion of our animals, the hard work it takes to ensure the animals are safe and healthy is exemplified in every area of the zoo.

We encourage guests to visit the zoo throughout the seasons. While some animals may prefer the warmer months, others like the red pandas, snow leopards, and many more are better adapted for the cooler months. No matter when you visit, there’s always something to enjoy at the zoo. For more information about the Lee Richardson Zoo and our animal residents, please visit us at www.leerichardsonzoo.org or give us a call at 620-276-1250.

Emily Sexson is a communications specialist at Lee Richardson Zoo.