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What happens when the weather gets so cold it’s life threatening? Jessi shows you how the Animal Wonders team keeps the animals safe.

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Hi, everyone!

Welcome back to  Animal Wonders. I’m Jessi,   and this Kizmit the African crested porcupine.

Kizmit has had quite an interesting week,   and so have many animals and  zookeepers across the United States.  We had an extreme cold front come through that  put the lives of some of our animals at risk.  So what happens when the weather gets so cold it’s  life threatening? How do we keep the animals safe?   Let me show you what we did. [CHEERY INTRO MUSIC] . For many of the states, like Texas  and Oklahoma, who rarely have to   deal with freezing temperatures, the unusual  extreme cold, major storms, and power outages   has been a very serious undertaking.

The zookeepers were faced with major   challenges trying to keep their animals warm. They got creative and saved the lives of   thousands of animals. So well done to all   the hard working animal keepers who are so  dedicated to the wellbeing of their charges!  Unfortunately, extreme weather can be a really  challenging issue, and not all of the animals   survived, which is why we take it so seriously.

Now, in Montana, unpredictable and extreme   weather happens quite frequently. Sub zero temperatures, blizzards,   and power outages are so common that it’s  one of the biggest challenges to having   an exotic animal rescue in Montana. Especially when providing care for species   that come from desert or tropical habitats.

Which is why we have seasonal changes to   our daily animal tasks and cold weather  protocols ready to implement as needed.  We’ve actually been having a really mild winter  so far, with temperatures staying between 15   and 40 degrees F and just a small scattering  of snow covering the ground in many places.  This isn’t normal for a Montana winter, but it  has been nice since we have a few new enclosures   and new animals who are sensitive to extreme cold. Because of this mild winter weather, we’ve been   able to test out how the heating systems are  working and where we need to make improvements.  So, when we saw the alerts about a winter  storm warning, we knew it was time to put   our cold weather protocols into action! First, we needed to move all the animals   that were most vulnerable into areas  where our tried and true heating   systems keep everyone safe and comfortable.

This includes animals like Kizmit the porcupine.  Kizi is currently living in one of our new  buildings, and it’s been great because she   has plenty of space and it’s generally been  staying warm enough for her over this winter.  But when the temperature fell under -10 degrees F, this space dropped under 60 degrees F,   and with even colder temperatures predicted,   we didn’t feel comfortable leaving her in this room.  So Kizmit was loaded into her crate and moved  into the main building for temporary housing   so we could safely ride out the storm. Now, Kizi is a giant rodent with giant   rodent teeth, and she can easily and  quickly chew right through a wall.  Housing her in a temperature  controlled indoor space is challenging!  So she went into the only  room in the main building   that has walls that she can’t chew through. But that happens to be currently housing   our trio of rabbits, which means  the rabbits needed to move out.  So they moved into Sydney the bettong’s  habitat during the day while Sydney,   who is nocturnal, slept in her cozy sleeping  pouch inside her familiar travel crate.  Then at night, we switched the rabbits into  their travel crates to sleep overnight,   and Sydney got the space for her nighttime activities.

It might sound complicated, but it works great   as a temporary solution for a few days. So with Kizmit safely secured in a warm space,   we moved on to her winter roommate, Sprite the guinea turaco.  Sprite is fairly cold tolerant and is comfortable  in temperatures down to about 40 degrees F.   So, she just needed to be moved into  a crate for the two nights that it   was predicted to get below -20 degrees F. She doesn’t enjoy being in small spaces,   so as soon as it was safe in the morning,   she was let out of the crate back into the room   to run and hop around on her branches.

Our next challenge was keeping Hara our   Harris’s hawk from getting too cold, which  could lead to frostbite on her feet or wings.  Harris’s hawks are desert birds and don’t  have adaptations to help them survive in   freezing temperatures like many of our  native hawk species we have in Montana.  But Hara has been living at Animal Wonders  since 2012, and with a few precautions,   she’s now a pro at tolerating whatever  weather comes at us. But that doesn’t   mean we can completely leave her to it. Hara has two heated perches that she can   choose to sit on whenever she wants.  One is in the main space of her mews,   and the other is inside a wooden den box  with a ceramic heat emitter over top.  She can sit under the heater whenever she wants,  but that doesn’t mean that she’s completely safe.  See, hawks don’t have good night vision,  so once they’ve perched for the night,   they won’t move from that spot for fear of crashing  into branches that they can’t see in the dark.  Which means if there’s a major temperature drop  at night and she hasn’t chosen to perch in the   heated area, she’s at risk of getting too cold.

So our protocol for her is when the temperature   is predicted to get below -10 degrees F, we’ll go in and make sure she’s safe.  If she isn’t already in her box, we move her  onto the heated perch and close the doors of   her heated box to wait out the cold. The only downside to this is that she   ends up pooping all over the box, and since  everything is frozen, cleanup sometimes has   to wait until things thaw out enough to scrub. Thankfully, the really dangerous part of the   cold snap was short, and Hara only needed to  be moved into her heated box for two nights.  And since she’s proven to be quite smart about  keeping warm during the day, we opened up the door   and she had access to her full space each morning.

And our last major challenge was for a new animal   that recently came to live at Animal Wonders: Gwendolyn the turkey vulture.  This is Gwen’s first winter in Montana, so she’s  not as savvy as Hara about keeping herself warm.  So even though she has heated areas in her  home, we didn’t feel completely comfortable   leaving her to her own devices. And since we don’t have a fully built   indoor area for her, we moved her into the main  building in the only available space large enough   to keep her happy: right in the hallway. Which was a really interesting experience   for both us and her.

It was really fun watching   all of her unique behaviors, and   we’re really getting to know her better.  So that meant all of the cold  sensitive animals were accounted for,   but that still left a lot to do. We turned up the heaters in all the main indoor rooms   and turned down the ventilation systems. Then we turned up the air purifiers to keep the   animals’ natural dust and dander under control.

Next we gave all the native species living in   outdoor spaces extra bedding, double checked their  dens to make sure they were secure and the animals   could make them cozy, and ensured their heated  water bowls were properly secured and functioning.  Lollipop the skunk is getting older, so she’s  now getting a heat pad under part of her den box,   so we made sure it was working  and she was warm and happy.  Ringo the raccoon got fresh blankets to pile  into his house since he had recently pulled   all of them into his water for who knows  what reason! Raccoons are trouble makers.  Also, Ringo’s daily dumping of his water dish has  created a big berm of solid ice around his bowl   that’s threatening to block the door. So we’ll need to figure out how to prevent   that from happening in the future.

Then we installed a heat bulb   over one of the ravens’ perches to give them  the option to sit under it if they wanted to.  And that left us with Huckleberry the beaver. Now, with Huckleberry comes even more challenges.  His need for a large pool of fresh  water every day combined with freezing   temperatures creates a unique situation. And we’ve thought about this a lot, especially   while we were planning the construction  of his building and we put the pool in.  So his home has an outdoor yard, but his  pool is completely indoors, so we can keep   it and the filter pipes from freezing  solid by using just a small wall heater.  Now most of the time, we can keep the  indoor space just above freezing with the   windows open to allow for nice air flow.

So during the cold snap, Huckleberry was   completely unfazed by the cold and  carried on doing his beaver business.  And since we weren’t worried about him  tolerating the cold, we made one little   mistake. We didn’t close the windows, and  the water ended up freezing in his pipes.  Luckily, the pipes didn’t break, but it did make  it very hard to clean out his pool for a few days.  Of course, we’d do anything for Huckleberry,  but I’ve got to give a huge shout out to Taylor   and Augusto for taking on cleaning beaver poop  water in sub zero weather! It’s no easy task.  When extreme weather comes unexpectedly,  it can be devastating.

I want to send   out my deepest condolences to all of the  animal caretakers who are grieving a loss   due to the cold or the power outages. I’m incredibly thankful to have a great   animal keeper team and solid plans in place,  even if everything isn’t completely perfect.  Overall this cold blast was challenging,  but it wasn’t more than we could handle.  It came with some known tasks  and it presented some new hurdles,   but we’ve made it through and we’ve come out  with good ideas for what needs to be worked on!  We’re going to figure out how to  keep Kizmit the porcupine’s room   warmer even in extreme cold temperatures. We’re going to build Gwendolyn the vulture an   indoor space that she can go into when she’s cold.

We’re going to figure out how to keep Ringo   the raccoon from creating ice  sculptures in the front of his door.  And we’re going to not forget to close Huckleberry  the beaver’s windows when it gets 20°F below.  We won’t be able to make any real progress on  some of these things until spring comes, but I’m   looking forward to tackling those improvements  so we’re even more prepared for next winter.  Thanks for going on this journey with us!  Every day is an adventure at Animal Wonders.   And if you’d like to continue going on adventures,  please be sure to subscribe and I’ll see you soon! Bye!  [BOLD OUTRO MUSIC].