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ZooMontana shuts down holiday lights display for extreme cold

Animals remain fine in low temps
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Posted at 5:11 PM, Dec 20, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-21 08:18:12-05

BILLINGS — Precautions for the extreme cold at ZooMontana are taken mostly for the zookeepers themselves because outside of one resident, all the animals love the temperature change, according to the zoo.

That guy bothered by the extreme cold is the turkey vulture, but he gets to stay nice and toasty with a heat lamp inside his enclosure.

"We follow the 45th parallel idea, meaning our animals come from on or above the 45th parallel around the world. What that’s nice for is on days like today, when it’s extremely cold outside these animals can handle it. Or if it's 105, they can handle it just as well. They’re acclimated to this climate, not only naturally, but of course here at the zoo," said Jeff Ewelt, executive director of ZooMontana, on Tuesday.

The zoo and the holiday lights exhibit will be closed through Thursday. The closure gives zookeepers an opportunity to finish their jobs at a faster rate and escape the cold themselves. But closing isn't ideal when it comes to revenue.

"Certainly, closing our doors, we don’t take lightly because we’re a business and folks coming through the gates, that’s how we pay our bills. So, we budget into our budget knowing that there is going to be a myriad of days throughout the year that we’re going to close. Whether it’s from a storm, cold weather, hot weather, or what have you. So, we’re prepared for this," added Ewelt.

While many zoo animals enjoy the extreme temp drops, some household pets face a very real danger.

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Chanda Fulkerson is a vet tech at Yellowstone Valley Animal Shelter and mentioned that while some dogs, such as huskies and Bernese Mountain dogs, may love the sheer cold. Many are at risk.

"Those guys that have the shorthair, they’re going to get cold really fast. So, you’re going to want to watch if you do have a shorthair dog. Their feet can get cold really, really fast, just like if we didn’t wear gloves.... We’re talking like minutes. When it’s this cold, the same time that you’re exposed skin could get frostbite. Same goes for their paw pads, their nose, their ears," said Fulkerson.

She added that if you have outdoor animals, make sure they have appropriate shelter, so they stay safe and warm. In addition, the Yellowstone Valley Animal Shelter will take in strays out of the cold as long as they're from Yellowstone County.