By Julianne Werts

Deck the Zoo

In preparation for the holidays, many people deck their halls with bows of holly, lights, and other ornaments. We do things a little differently here for the animals. Instead, we deck the Zoo with lots of browse as we wait for the winter critters to rouse!

Browse is what we call branches and leaves that we offer to the animals as part of their diet. Many of our herbivorous animals enjoy munching on sticks and tearing the leaves off of branches, much like their wild counterparts would. Much of the browse we source is from local trees and bushes around the Zoo and Garden City. We are always very careful about what browse we offer though, as some plants can be toxic to animals. Each individual has a specific diet with a variety of browse, fruits or veggies, grains, and whatever else they need to stay healthy.

We have a number of “winter critters” living here at the Zoo as well! If you visit our North American Plains area, you can see a few of them. You might notice that the bison don their winter coats. As the temperatures get colder, their fur grows in thicker to keep them warm. This is common for many animals that live in areas where parts of the year are warm, while other times are cold. As we move into spring and summer, you will see them start to shed this thicker fur, so they don’t get too hot as the temperatures rise.

Some of the other winter critters you can find here at the Zoo live in the Wild Asia area. If you come here on colder days, you might be able to see the red pandas exploring or the takins roaming in their yard. Both of these species are from mountainous areas of Asia. Temperatures in these areas can reach well below freezing, so they are well built to survive in the cold. They are also both excellent

climbers, but in very different ways. Red pandas spend most of their time up in trees eating bamboo. Their long tails help keep them balanced as they climb. The takins are more mountain climbers! They are related to sheep, and their hooves help them keep steady footing on the rocky sections of the mountains where they live. They even have the ability to stand straight up on their hind legs to help them reach for food!

We hope that you will visit us around the holidays this year. While the weather might be chilly, there is still plenty of fun to be had here at the Zoo! Maybe you’ll spot the browse that feeds the animals, or the winter coats that help keep them warm. Until then, we wish you a very happy holiday season from your friends at the Lee Richardson Zoo!

Julianne Werts is the education coordinator at Lee Richardson Zoo.