Attendance at popular tourist spots in the Wisconsin Dells isn’t the only thing that goes down with the temperature.
At Timbavati Wildlife Park, 2220 Wisconsin Dells Parkway, the number of animals drops from 823 in the summer to 400 in the winter, according to Robert Kocinski, general manager of the park.
Some of Timbavati’s temperature-sensitive animals like spider monkeys are sent to other animal entertainment locations able to accommodate them with warm buildings, Kocinski said. Temperature-sensitive animals may need a warmer climate when temperatures get below 40 degrees, he explained.
“They replace them with animals that are either native to Wisconsin or winter-hearty animals,” he said.
The park had a small herd of Grant’s zebras over the summer, which were swapped with nilgai antelopes.
“Nilgais are still indoors, but they don’t have to be heated to the degree that the zebras did,” he said.
Other temperature-sensitive animals that left Timbavati are nyala antelopes and macaws. In return, the park received porcupines, a cougar and three types of lynx, the Canadian, the Siberian and the Carpathian.
Temperature, snow and wind determine whether certain animals can go outside in the wintertime.
“Animals have different tolerances, so we have to make a decision by animal,” he said. “We don’t just do it across the board.”
If it’s a mild, 20-degree winter day, he said lions and tigers have access to the outdoors. But if it’s subzero with strong winds, they’re kept inside.
The animals’ diets also change with the temperature, Kocinski said. Lions and tigers are more active in the wintertime, which increases the amount of calories they burn. Porcupines, on the other hand, slow down.
Appetites are especially affected by mating seasons that coincide with the cold. Since foxes’ mating season is late January or early February, their diets increase by about 25 percent in the wintertime, he said. They eat a protein mix similar to dog food and veggies, with carrots being one of their favorites.
When temperatures drop, water has to be checked and changed more frequently due to the possibility of it freezing, Becky Brinkman, head zookeeper and tour guide, said.
Certain areas of the park are closed to the public during the winter, Kocinski said. This includes the backwoods and displays that are animal-specific like black-footed penguins and flamingos, both of which need to be sent to larger indoor facilities during the winter.
Kocinski said the park has about 15 pens, or summer pastures, empty. “It’s a really good time in the spring and the fall for them to grow back up because there are animals eating on them all summer long,” he said. “So, it gives them a chance to recover.”
Winter-specific challenges the staff of 12 face range from keeping the walking paths clear of snow to caring for the world’s tallest mammal, the giraffe, which Kocinski said is the most challenging animal to tend to in the winter.
“During the summertime, giraffes are let out during the day, so the staff has all day to clean out their pens,” he said. During the winter, the giraffes are indoors, so they have to get shifted over from pen to pen, then back as the pens get cleaned. Since they are not able to run in their full pastures and play around as much, they can get frisky, he added.
The biggest challenge Brinkman faces is moving the animals. “A lot of the hoofstock have to go out on trailers and they’re not always thrilled about that,” she said. “But they’re going inside to a nice, warm barn, so you want to move them.”
“This is the time of year where we get a lot of things done, where we make improvements to the park,” Kocinski said. A new wildlife presentation and changes to the cat house are just a couple of the improvements that will be introduced sometime in 2018.
Until then, walking tours are available at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., daily. Brinkman said it’s always best to call ahead. For the VIP option, a 24 hour notice is required. The animals guests may encounter include lions, tigers, alpacas, kangaroos, camels and parakeets.