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Zoos, wildlife sanctuaries protecting animals from frigid temperatures

Posted at 8:03 PM, Jan 04, 2018
and last updated 2018-01-05 04:19:20-05

The cold weather may be an inconvenience for most of us but it can mean life or death for creatures sensitive to temperatures in the 30s.

The Palm Beach Zoo and other local wildlife sanctuaries like Busch Wildlifeand Lion Country Safari have been working hard to protect their wildlife. If you're visiting those places this week, you might notice several habitats empty or closed this week as staff moves the animals inside.

Some animals like the Florida panther might be able to tolerate this frigid weather but for the tropical reptiles, it can be dangerous if they’re exposed for too long.

“If we have a few more days of cold weather like we did in 2010, you'll start to see animals pass away due to fluid flowing into their lungs, symptoms of pneumonia," said Emily Maple, lead keeper in the reptile department at the Palm Beach Zoo. "That's why we take action right away with our collection to protect our various sensitive animals."

Reptiles can get cold stunned, which is when their metabolism slows down and they can’t move. That’s why you see iguanas lose their grip and fall out of trees.

In order to protect their animals, the Palm Beach Zoo has been prepping for a cold snap since October.

“Heat lamps, space heaters -- those are inventoried so all of that is ready to go to make it a little easier," said Maple.

Once the low temperatures in the area hit 45 degrees, it’s game time for the keepers.

“We have 500 animals here and we have about 150 reptiles total,” said Maple.

The staff gets started with their Burmese python.

“She’s 6-feet long, she’s 100 pounds and she’s also very elderly," said Maple.

The Komodo dragons, turtles and other reptiles are moved to indoor habitats with heat lamps.

“We also bring in heat sources in the building for where our sensitive little frogs and things are," said Maple.

Birds like lorikeets and flamingos are also very susceptible to the cold but can handle temperatures above freezing.

Busch Wildlife Sanctuary in Jupiter is also working hard to protect their animals by adding more hay, blankets and heat lamps to enclosures and moving reptiles indoors.

“Out in the wild, these animals can find the proper bedding and a proper place to sleep for the cooler temperatures but in captivity, it’s extremely important, we’re now their caretakers," said Amy Kight, executive director for Busch Wildlife. "So we need to make sure that we're properly caring for them to get them through these temperatures."

Kight said she can't wait for the warmer temperatures South Florida is known for to finally return.

“A lot of our animals are really discombobulated right now. They've been moved into other enclosures. The animals don’t really know what’s going on right now — so to get them back out with the sunny weather again and back to their Florida temperatures, we’re so ready," said Kight. 

Animal caretakers expect to keep the critters protected from the cold for another couple of days, at least until the low temperatures get back up to the 50s and 60s.