Lincoln Park Zoo and Brookfield Zoo in the Chicago have announced they are closing temporarily during the cold snap that has hit the midwest.
Staff at the zoo will remain on-site to care for animals, even as humans were told to stay inside. A brutal cold snap throughout the midwest has caused at least 12 deaths.
The postal service has shut down in a rare move with suspension of deliveries through Ohio. Police had to rescue people on a bus after it was so cold in Illinois that the diesel fuel in the vehicle turned to gel.
Spokesperson Jillian Braun said the zoo has closed just one other time due to extreme weather in recent memory.
Brookfield Zoo is also closing, something it has done only three other times in its 85-year history. Once for snowstorms in 2011 and in 2018 and 2013 because of flooding.
“To ensure the safety of our animals and staff, the zoo will only have a skeleton crew on site who will provide basic core functions, including animal care and to check on the facilities,” said Stuart Strahl, president and CEO of the Chicago Zoological Society, which manages Brookfield Zoo, in a statement.
While animals like snow owls, polar bears and snow leopards are accustomed to the cold temperatures, others like kangaroos are being kept indoors.
An animal rescue group PAWS Chicago said feral cats are in danger because of the cold. An estimated 200,000 stray cats live in Chicago alone and some are cared for by caretakers.
Laurie Maxwell, PAWS’ director of community outreach, said cats are exceptionally resilient, finding shelter under cars or dumpsters and inside vacant buildings. During extreme cold, they save energy by hunkering down and remaining still.
Even so, people who care for strays can increase the animals’ chances of survival by making sure they have food and water — heated water bowls prevent freezing, as do bowls that are exceptionally deep — along with rudimentary shelter.
The animals are native to climes that experience cold well below zero, so the week’s freeze won’t be anything they can’t handle, said Mike Murray, curator of mammals at the Lincoln Park Zoo.
“It really doesn’t get too cold here in Chicago,” he said. “Even with the arctic blast coming up, they’ll be outside.”
“Even though these animals may have fur on them, their toes can experience frostbite,” he said. “We’re just not going to be taking that chance.”