Between Bob Barker’s elephant wrangling, the forbidden love of two male penguins, and, most recently, the public debut of a baby polar bear nearly murdered by its mother at birth, the past few months at the Toronto Zoo have been—forgive us—wild. But, drama or none, life at the zoo continues. On a cold February afternoon, we visited the zoo’s tundra section to chat with Eric Cole, Acting Manager of Wildlife Care, about how the place keeps its animals comfortable in the depths of winter.
Torontoist: Are there any specific winter-proofing procedures for outdoor habitats at the zoo?
Toronto Zoo: It varies on the particular winter. We haven’t had to do a whole lot of winter-proofing this year because it’s been so unusually mild. It hasn’t been a typical winter.
During a typical winter, what would you do?
Well, we do different things to different parts of the zoo. Right now, you’re in the tundra, so we don’t have to do anything, because all of the animals are used to cold that’s more severe than this. But in other areas of the zoo, we do various things depending on the area and depending on the animal.
So what, for example, would you do for a warm-weather animal?
We would put up windbreakers, and in some cases we put up heaters in certain yards. That’s the kind of thing that we would do to ensure our animals get out, but not out onto frozen exhibits.
Are certain events more difficult to deal with in the winter, like animal births or illness?
Generally not. It doesn’t make a difference. Some animals, their breeding season occurs so that they do give birth in the winter. As far as we’re concerned, like our veterinary care and that, it just means that if there are births with African animals, for example, [they would happen] inside rather than outside. But it really doesn’t make any difference to us.
Are there any unique challenges posed to zoo animals or staff, in general, that vary from season to season?
Yeah, there are, usually related to extremes of weather. Whether it’s extreme heat and we’re trying to keep our animals cool, or extreme cold, in which case we may not put them out in the yard and they’d only have access to their inside barns. We’re a year-round operation, so we kind of get used to all conditions. We’re still here, no matter what the day is like.