Cold weather brings challenges for big cat caretakers



Although caring for over 100 tigers, lions, bears and other exotic wildlife is a challenge any time of the year, winter weather creates many extra challenges. Whereas tigers grow a winter coat, as do cougars and other native species, African animals suffer from the cold if not protected by heated enclosures.

“We’re fortunate to have had a nice leopard habitat for several years,” says Turpentine Creek Curator Emily McCormack. “Lions stress in this weather as well. We’ve just installed a heater in Thor’s new space. That’s especially important with the older cats of any type. Winter is hard on everybody.”

Thor has been a special challenge, McCormack says. “First we put a door on his space to keep the cold out, but he just ripped that off. Then we installed one of those big heavy-duty plastic cased heaters you can bolt to the floor, but I guess it looked like a toy, because he ripped that out as well. Now we’ve installed one of those floor heaters like you can put in your kitchen or bathroom under the tiles. We’ve covered it with a thin layer of concrete. We use a massive amount of straw for bedding for all the cats. We’re hoping that Thor’s new set-up will work out better for him.”

In addition to the heating issue, interns and staff must make sure the ice is broken regularly on the cats’ water. Winter also makes cleaning more difficult. “You can’t use a hose to clean out an area, leaving a sheet of ice behind for the cats to slide around on,” McCormack says. “And while the tigers playing in the snow looks great, it doesn’t stay pristine and white for too long. So we shovel it out by hand.”

McCormack says though it’s been cold this winter, the fact there’s been no snows has been a blessing. “If we could put a big bubble over the refuge to keep it warm, that would be great, but we can’t. Although it is hard on the electric bill, we take care of all our animals here, when it’s freezing cold and any other time.”