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Scovill Zoo workers busy as ever while animals stay warm inside during winter

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PURDEU Heather
Heather Purdeu, a zookeeper at Scovill Zoo, tends to the daily winter needs of Carl, a blue and gold Macaw, which is not used to the cold Illinois weather. Herald & Review photos/Kelly J. Huff

DECATUR - There is a place in Scovill Zoo where alligators, small primates, capybaras, turtles and a plethora of birds share one long, cacophonous hallway.

The zoo's Animal Care Center houses all these creatures, about 60 total, during the winter. The animals live in large pens, which zookeepers rinse daily, in harmony but definitely not silence.

"It gets really noisy when the food is coming. There's a lot of singing," said zookeeper Kelly Lawrence, raising her voice to speak over the growing bird chorus. "Once somebody gets started, then the toucans and the kookaburras, they want to answer back. The macaws, they want to shriek as well."

Several animals have small pools in their areas, causing the hallway to retain humidity that keepers try to ease with a large fan. Reptiles use heat lamps to supplement their need for even warmer temperatures.

"Probably the most important thing is, a lot of people think we have less to do in the winter, but we actually have more to do," zookeeper Heather Purdeu said. The zoo employs five full-time and six part-time keepers during the winter, its lowest staffing levels all year.

Those keepers trudge about their duties even in snow or ice, lugging extra food for the outdoor animals (which need more energy when it's cold) and buckets of water (faucets must be turned off during cold weather). When it snows, they sometimes use sleds instead of wheelbarrows to haul supplies.

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Winter isn't an unwelcome time for all of the zoo's animals. Some, such as Bactrian camels, peafowl and goats, seem relatively unfazed. Others appear to enjoy it.

All of the animals' habitats provide a form of shelter, but some, such as the wolves, rarely use it, said Ken Frye, assistant zoo director.

The zoo's newest wolf, Tilly, experienced her first snows this winter. On Tuesday morning, she ran through the fresh snow, lifted her nose in the air at falling snowflakes and played with pen mates Marlin and Marius.

Sprout the wallaby, which was born in the zoo this summer, also ventured out into the snow with his parents, Matilda and Iggy Hop. A zookeeper placed a children's toy bunny, which moved and sang, next to the fence as a form of stimulation keepers provide for the animals.

"Even during the winter, we are always trying to challenge them with new sights, new smells, new sounds - like a dancing bunny," Frye said.

The zoo will open again to the public April 2.|421-6986


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