WHAT CAN YOU DO AT THE ZOO WHEN IT IS WINTER?
ZOOMONTANA is a collection of animals whose natural homes are in the northern latitudes where they experience both warm and cold weather. You can see how our animals keep warm and enjoy the winter climate as you visit the exhibits.
DID YOU KNOW THAT OUR ZOO IS ALSO A BOTANICAL GARDEN? There are a number of trees and shrubs that are not native to our area, but grow in this same kind of climate, just as some of our animals do. In the winter when the trees are bare and the grass is covered with snow, you can still see some of the plant features that let you identify what they are.
HERE ARE SOME THINGS TO WATCH FOR AS YOU TOUR THE ZOO TODAY:
Leave the main building walking toward the bear exhibit. Across from the entrances to the viewing pavilion you will see a group of SPRUCE TREES. Their general characteristics include a pyramidal shape, square needles, and cones that hang downward from the branches.
BRUNO and OZZIE, our bears, don’t totally hibernate during the winter, but they are less active. What are they doing today as you visit their habitat?
Our BIGHORN SHEEP live high in the mountains so they are used to colder weather. They are active in the winter. What are they doing today?
FIERCA, our Canada Lynx, is a wild cat native to the northern United States and Canada. In the wild her favorite prey is snowshoe hare. Notice how large and furry her feet are. This helps her to run over the snow while hunting. If it has snowed at the zoo recently, can you see Fierca’s prints along the paths where she has been walked for exercise?
As you return to the main building past the covered bridge at the Homestead, on your left at the top of the knoll are some BURR OAK trees. They are native to extreme southeastern Montana, an outlier to the Black Hills forests. The bark of their twigs and branches is very irregular, having corklike wings. You can also see a BURR OAK directly behind the bench just outside the front gate. This year’s acorns are clusters of small round objects. Next year they will ripen into full grown acorns with a large scaly cup ringed with long fringe. Look for the mature acorns next year when you visit again.
One other tree which is easily recognized even in winter is the LITTLELEAF LINDEN. It was originally imported from Europe, and has been used for many years in urban settings. This linden is resistant to the pollution of traffic, so it makes a good urban tree. The littleleaf has a distinctive pyramidal shape. When you return to your car, look at the row of trees planted in the median strip of the parking lot. Notice their “gumdrop” like shape. These are our Lindens. There is also one in the lawn to your right as you approach the front gate, across from the BURR OAK behind the bench.
Our two grey wolves, KALI and KALUHA, enjoy being outside. They have several hollows they dug. Are they using them in the winter? Do they lie in the same places where you see them in warmer weather, or have they found cozier spots to lie in?
If you have ever been to Yellowstone Park, perhaps you have seen river otters playing along the river banks. MIA and BEN, our River Otters, can play on the slope of the empty large pool when there is snow in the enclosure . They have a smaller heated pool near the back wall. Some days they curl up on the logs in their enclosure. What are they doing today?
One of our tree specimens is called a WESTERN LARCH. Some larch grow in extreme northwestern Montana. There is one about 35 paces past Fierca’s enclosure to your right as you walk toward the wolves, tiger, and pandas. You might think it is dead, but it is actually a deciduous conifer, meaning that it loses its needles in the winter. In summer it is a soft green, in autumn, golden yellow, and in winter it is bare. Notice the little bumps on the branches where the clusters of needles grow. The WESTERN LARCH near Fierca is about 20 feet tall. Do you see it?
PRINCE is an Amur, or Siberian, tiger whose home territory is in the far northeast of the Asian continent. When you are at Prince’s exhibit can you see the ledges covered with straw where he lies to enjoy the sunny winter days?
TAYLOR and ZOE, our Red Pandas, are very busy traveling on their extensive network of logs. When they are resting, they may curl up together on the platform in the tree. They can use their tails as protection for their faces when they nap.
This ZooNews Article was written by Mary-Alice Spencer, ZooMontana Docent.