Weather Forecast


Cold hard on critters, but wolves seem immune at zoo

Darren Gibbins / Forum News Service Orion, a wolf at the Red River Zoo, lets out a howl Monday.

FARGO — Call them the Ice Pack.

Even though the temperature was 16 below zero and the wind chill factor was minus 41, the wolves at the Red River Zoo romped in the snow Monday like a bunch of spring chickens.

“They’re playing and rolling around. They appear to be having a great day,” said Sally Jacobson, business manager at the zoo, where many of the animals hail from chilly climates.

But the cold gripping the region is extraordinary, prompting the zoo to restrict outdoor access for many creatures, to Jacobson said.

The wolves are an exception. They have an outdoor den for a warming house and seem impervious to the cold.

The zoo keeps weekend hours in the winter, but it was closed Sunday because of the weather.

Jacobson said the decision to restrict outside access for zoo denizens helps its human handlers as much as it does the animals.

Even hardy creatures such as red pandas and Bactrian camels have been hesitant to leave their shelters these days, she said. During cold weather, animals get extra bedding and enrichment activities to make up for the stimulation they normally get from going outside, she said.

Fargo police Lt. Joel Vettel said police receive more animal welfare calls in the winter than at any other time of year.

He said in most cases community service officers handle the calls, and officers will try to work with pet owners to make sure animals are cared for.

If that isn’t possible, officers will take animals to the pound, which in Fargo is Valley Veterinary Hospital.

Derine Winning, a veterinarian at the clinic, said a small number of animals were brought in over the weekend, all of them in good health.

That isn’t always the case, she said, adding that for cats, in particular, frostbite can be an issue, especially when it comes to their ears.

Winning said when the weather turns very cold, pet owners should supervise their animal’s bathroom breaks so they don’t stay outdoors longer than necessary.

While livestock tend to do well in the cold, even the hardiest can suffer when temperatures fall and winds rise, said Kris Ringwall, a livestock specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service in Dickinson.

Whether it’s a barn cat, a goat or the family dog, “they need wind protection and appropriate bedding and then feed,” Ringwall said, adding that the latter is particularly critical for animals like cows.

“It’s amazing how livestock survive and their only source of heat is the heat of digestion,” Ringwall said.

The key, he said, is providing animals proper bedding to keep their bodies off the frozen ground and shelter to protect them from wind.

“That wind carries your body heat away,” Ringwall said.

One challenge faced by livestock producers is making sure equipment operates in very cold temperatures.

“You’re not a working farm in this country without planning ahead, and preparing for these kinds of situations is part of that plan,” he said.

If animals that normally stay outdoors need to be brought indoors for warmth, care should be taken to make sure humidity doesn’t become a problem, Ringwall said.

“If you bring something like cattle into a barn, they’ll heat that barn up and then the humidity goes up in the barn and then you get respiratory issues,” he said.

“The cow is quite capable — if she’s out of the wind and she has bedding and she’s fed — to handle this weather, she really is,” Ringwall said.

“Sometimes taking them inside, if the air flow is not correct, you create more health problems.”

Dave Olson
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