With the onset of winter comes a flurry of worry neatly packed in the deceptive shape of an innocent snowflake, too beautiful to warrant the mountain of concern brought on by the possibility of snow falling at the Conservators Center. I can think of few things more inherently challenging than caring for lions, lemurs, binturongs, and other animals adapted to warm weather climates during a whiteout blizzard. Luckily, North Carolina is well known for its mild winters and temperamental weather, so snow at the Conservators Center is not a common problem. However, when the winds of winter do blow our way, innumerable preparations must be made to ensure the safety and well-being of all our precious animals.
Winter preparation begins long before the first hint of snow chills our bones in order to alleviate some of the stress that inevitably falls with the precarious powder. The resourceful animal keepers have already teamed up with the industrious construction crew to assess all of the den boxes for durability and warmth by the time the first leaves are released by the trees to mark the onset of autumn.
By the time children are donning costumes and trick or treating, all of the heated water bowls have been tested for functionality and are on their way into every single enclosure on the Smalls side of the park. A few huge heated buckets with sturdy wooden covers have also already been disseminated to the big cats that can be trusted not to treat the expensive piece of winter equipment as a fun new toy.
Once the temperatures really start to drop, usually by the end of October, all of the fans and pools which were intended to cool the fluffy felines are removed from the park. They are replaced with den box heaters and heated water bowls so all the furry residents are sure to be kept warm and cozy throughout the duration of winter, no matter how mild or severe.
One of the most important winter preparations, especially for our big cats who don’t benefit from the constant heat provided by a heating pad like the small cats do, is the addition of straw to every single den box in the park. That’s more than 100 dens, large and small, that must be filled and checked every single day of the winter! Fortunately, only a few of our animals insist on urinating in their dens, so the keepers don’t necessarily need to replace all the straw in every den each day. However, all the straw must be checked thoroughly for soiling or mold and if there is even a hint of dampness, it is the keeper’s responsibility to remove the old straw and stock the den anew.
The humans at the Conservators Center have worked long and hard to build strong and lasting relationships with the community of people who care deeply for the charismatic creatures who call this place their home. Helping these animals thrive in every season would not be possible without the generous contributions made by our donors and adopters each year. Nor would we be able to complete the arduous tasks of winter preparation were it not for the diligent efforts of our hardworking keeper team, construction crew, and devoted army of volunteers who dedicate their time day in and day out to ensure the continued health and happiness of these majestic animals, even in the midst of winter. All of us at the Conservators Center, human and non-human animals alike, are eternally grateful for the endless support we receive throughout the sometimes cold and dreary winter months, which seem to be lasting longer than usual this year.
Snow in March is not totally unheard of for the south, but a sudden dumping of cold, wet flakes after a period of unseasonable warmth definitely adds an extra layer of complexity to the care of our animal residents. While most people are focusing on turning their clocks forward to spring ahead into the season of sun and rain, our dedicated animal caretakers are still busy stocking dens with straw and breaking ice out of water buckets as our beloved animal residents anticipate the warmth that spring will soon bring. As exciting and beautiful as a fresh snowfall can be, we here at the Conservators Center are all looking forward to the final snowmelt and the verdant joy that comes with the long-awaited blossoming of spring.