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'Who Knew?' What the animals do during winter at the John Ball Zoo

Posted: 5:51 AM, Jan 15, 2020
Updated: 2020-01-22 15:56:39-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — We all know what goes on during the open season at the John Ball Zoo when it's 70 degrees and sunny, but what about in the winter when it's 30 degrees and the zoo is closed?

Zoo keeper Keith Sprague tells us that's tricky because, as he jokes, "The animals don’t always know what the weather forecast is, no matter how many times I tell them, right?"

A lot of the animals that are native to North America go in and out all winter long.

Surprisingly, animals like the lions, monkeys, and bears can actually handle the snow okay, just not all the time.

That's why the animals have two habitats during the winter months.

Sprague explains there's an inside habitat: "They’ve got a large building with all sorts of different den setups so they can go in different places. There’s a lot more work put into making sure they’re entertained. So, more enrichment, more things for those animals to do when they’re inside."

Then there's an outside habitat to enjoy the winter elements. "The chimpanzees ... would probably never ever see snow out in the wild. But they can experience it, play in it on a warm winter day here in Michigan, and then come back inside and warm up and get a treat."

As far as the birds, they don't like the cold temperatures as much. A majority of the birds hang out in the bird barn.

"All the birds that are not native to the U.S. typically are gonna be tropical or sub-tropical species, and they end up up here," says Sprague, referring to the Bird Barn.

Among those birds are the toucans,bBudgies. and flamingos.

How much time they spend in the bird barn all depends on the weather, but their diet is consistent year round. "These birds get tropical fruits all winter long. Even though it’s the middle of winter in Michigan, we still have access to that sort of thing," says Sprague.

One bird family definitely not eating those tropical fruits? Penguins.

Their fish diet and environment -- like all their neighbors in the aquarium exhibit -- stays the same all year long.

So, there are three different answers to our original question, what do the animals do during the off season winter at the John Ball Zoo?

Some animals live half indoor and half outdoors, some animals have specific warming habitats, and for some animals nothing changes at all.

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