Red River Zoo animals and staff take on subzero temperatures

While many of the animals are adjusted to life below zero, what's it like for the people taking care of them?

Many animals at the Red River Zoo come from parts of the world that have cold climates.
Ben Morris / WDAY-TV

FARGO — For most of us, it's painful to go outside when temperatures are below zero, sometimes literally.

Many have the instant reaction to head right back inside the second they feel the cold air.

The Red River Zoo's animals meanwhile, have to face the weather head on.

"Our animals get to go outside every single day, which we believe is really important for their welfare that they get outside in the fresh air and the sun," said Sally Jacobson, Executive Director for the Red River Zoo.

There's a few of them that get a little chilly, like the porcupines, Eurasian lynx and Pallas' cats; but they have access to their inside holding.


And they get a little help staying warm with some straw and things like camel hair.

While some animals have a tougher time with the cold, many of them, like camels, wolves and takin, are well adjusted to it.

"The animals are way better adapted to it than us. They spend kind of all fall getting their winter coats ready. And so by the time the winter rolls around, they're usually a lot more preped for it than we are," said Emily Swenson, Lead Keeper for the Red River Zoo.

While the animals have natural defenses against the cold, that's not the case for the zookeepers.

"Most people think about the animals. But I think about our zookeepers because they are outside every single day, whether it is 105 out in the summertime, or it's 38 below out in the winter, and those people are out there making sure that our animals are well cared for," said Jacobson.

It's a constant battle to stay warm for keepers out in the elements for hours each and every day.

And to stay warm preparation is key.

"If we need to get hand warmers, toe warmers, extra layers, goggles, or if it's really, really cold, like those negative 40 days, then we'll plan on okay, we'll team up so we can go out, do 20 minutes of outside work, come in and take a break and warm up again and then head back out again," said Swenson.


With all the extra layers on, the longer it takes to get things done and the more precautions they have to take.

Sometimes they have to carry shovels to clear a snow drift from the same spot they've shoveled 20 times, or an extra water jug in case one of them freezes.

They're the sacrifices that have to be made when you have to care for animals built for this region.

"Most of our animals are cold climate animals, so we're outside right with them," said Swenson.

It's just a look into their daily operations.

Ben Morris joined WDAY in June of 2021 as a news reporter. He grew up in southern New Hampshire, before he moved to Fargo. He majored in media communications and minored in marketing at the University of Toledo in Ohio.
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