It’s all in the temperature
This time of year, the members of the Hoofstock Team can tell you what the temperature is at any moment, what the real feel is, plus the expected high and low for the day. Why are we so focused on the weather, you ask? Well, depending on what the temperature is dictates when and where the animals can go.
As we all know, the temperature in Atlanta can change greatly from day to day, even hour to hour, with the high and low differing 10-15 degrees in one day. To make sure the animals stay healthy, happy, and comfortable during these swinging temperatures, we set and follow temperature guidelines. The guidelines are based on how each species is known to do in different temperatures, what temperatures they are known to withstand in the wild, and whether it is sunny or cloudy or they have access to heat sources in different areas of the habitat. They guide us to know if we need to close the stall door to keep the animals in warm spaces, open the door and give them access to choose between a heat barn and the outside temperature, or even when it is warm enough for them to no longer need access to the barn heat.
For the warthogs, they are not known to be cold tolerant animals. With little hair covering their bodies, it can be hard to maintain body heat when it is below 50 degrees. One feature in their new habitat that helps with the temperature regulation on colder days is a heat pad. In one of their caves, a warming pad has been installed that the pigs LOVE to snuggle up on. So, even though they have access to the barn when the temperature is below 50 degrees, they often choose to nap in their cave on the warm pad.
Zebras, on the other hand, are quite cold tolerant. They can have access to the stalls and habitat as long as it is above 25 degrees. Although they can easily tolerate the colder temperatures, they normally choose to hang out in the barn until it is about 40. One modification that helps us maintain the temperature in the barn while they still have access at such low temperatures is freezer flaps. These flaps are made of thick plastic and are used in the restaurant and food industries to help keep the cold in and warm out as you pass in and out of the freezer while leaving a door open. The zebras have learned how to walk through the flaps, allowing us to leave the barn doors from the stalls to their corrals open, but keep the heat in the barn.
Lastly, giraffes, similar to the warthogs, can be sensitive to colder temperatures. We keep the barn nice and warm at 60-65 degrees, and to make sure they stay warm, the barn doors are closed if it is below 40 degrees. The giraffes here at Zoo Atlanta choose to stay in the barn until it is about 45-50 degrees, as they are not a fan of the cooler temperatures. The amount of sun is also a factor for them. They use capillaries that are concentrated behind their brown spots to help soak up heat and maintain their body temperature. This means when it is cloudy out, the giraffes are more like to stay in the barn even if the temperatures are warming up.
So as the temperatures go from 25 to 40 to 50 degrees, we are opening and closing doors to keep the animals as comfortable as needed.
Lead Keeper, Hoofstock