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Winter at the zoo
Herald & Review/Kelly J. Huff
Scovill Zoo Director Mike Borders checks in on one of the zoo's two tortoises which will spend the winter inside the Animal Care Center..

DECATUR - Coming from the warm confines of Florida, the Scovill Zoo zebras should be in for a frigid surprise this winter, but zoo Director Mike Borders is bringing the heat.

Borders is making sure the zebras, Chad and Kizuri, are kept toasty during their first experience with an Illinois winter.

"All of us who live here know what it's like. It can be pretty nice or pretty bad," Borders said.

Scovill Zoo closed for the winter season Nov. 1, and the staff is preparing by bringing in the weather-sensitive animals from their exhibit areas and placing them in heated buildings.

For the zebras, a barn is being renovated to include heat and a chute fence connecting to their exhibit, Borders said.

"Whenever we build a new exhibit at the zoo, winter holding is a huge part of our planning," he said, citing the camels as an example.

Borders explained that they purposely brought in Bactrian - two-hump - camels versus the one-humped Dromedary camels because they can adapt from cold to hot temperatures by growing thick hair in the winter and shedding it in the summer.

With limited room, the zoo has to figure out how to accommodate all of the animals for the season.

The flamingo exhibit, which was renovated this year, has a heated building attached to it. The reptiles in the herpaquarium are left in their tanks, and the petting zoo animals are left out and provided with extra dry straw for bedding and warmth, Borders said.

Other animals left in their exhibit include the wolves and cheetahs, which are comfortable with snow and have access to warm housing when they want.

Borders said if the weather isn't too cold, the animals are allowed outside. But "if it's going to be very cold for any length of time, our keepers will lock them in their heated buildings."

The animals without a heated building are put into the animal care building, which includes most of the tropical birds, primates, Galapagos tortoises, alligators and more.

Zoo keeper Heather Thompson keeps busy in the winter by hauling buckets of water and fears that the water hose may freeze. She also put water heaters in the animals' water tubs.

"All the moving is done, but there's actually more to do with all the hosing and cleaning cages," she said.

Thompson said when the the animals are in smaller spaces, workers have to hose down cages more often. She said they clean the cages every day for health reasons.

"People don't realize we're busier in the winter than the summertime," Thompson said.

Alicia Spates can be reached at aspates@herald-review.com or 421-6986.

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