03/01/2018 11:19 PM IST | Updated 05/01/2018 12:46 AM IST

It's So Cold That A Canadian Zoo Took Extra Precautions To Protect Its Penguins

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King penguins at Salisbury Plains, South Georgia, near Antarctica. King penguins are able to withstand extremely cold temperatures, but not as well as their cousins, emperor penguins.

Frigid temperatures in Alberta, Canada, have caused zookeepers to take extra precautions to keep their penguins safe. 

King penguins at Calgary Zoo are typically able to waddle into their outdoor enclosure as they please. But as temperatures in the region dipped below -13 degrees Fahrenheit, they were moved into their indoor enclosure several times, zoo curator Malu Celli told the Canadian Press. 

While these king penguins are accustomed to freezing subantarctic climates, they are less hardy than their relatives, emperor penguins. There’s also a young chick in the zoo’s flock, a fact that encouraged zookeepers to be extra cautious over the past few weeks.

“It’s kind of like you can bundle up your kid, but then there’s a point you’re going to say, ‘I know you’re good, but I’d rather you stay inside now,’” Celli said.

A spokesperson from Calgary Zoo told HuffPost that weather conditions in the area have since improved and the penguins are “happily outdoors again.” 

It’s not unusual for the zoo to pull its king penguins in from their outdoor enclosure during Calgary’s extreme winter conditions.

The zoo’s guidelines suggest that the penguins should be kept indoors if temperatures fall below -25 C (-13 F). Celli told the Canadian Press that temperatures in the region have recently remained around -28 C (-18.4 F). 

Early Monday morning, the weather in Calgary dipped down to -30 C (-22 F), according to 

“It’s not necessarily that it’s too cold for them,” Celli said. “I believe that physiologically, they can withstand colder weather than what we have here, but these are not wild birds.”

Record-breaking cold temperatures in the United States this week have led some U.S. zoos to prepare to take extra measures to protect their animals too.

Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, which recently had its coldest New Year’s Day on record with a high of 1 degree Fahrenheit, is remaining vigilant. General Curator Dave Bernier told HuffPost that the zoo’s facilities are designed to protect animals even in extremely cold weather. While zookeepers prefer to let animals roam freely between their indoor and outdoor spaces, the staff closely monitors those decisions when temperatures reach these extremes.

“We always prefer to give [animals] access to both indoor and outdoor exhibits but will verify that they are making good [decisions] or using the spaces appropriately in extreme weather conditions such as these,” he said. “If there is concern, then they would not be given access to the outdoor space.” 

Courtesy of Lincoln Park Zoo
African penguins at Chicago's Lincoln Park Zoo. 

The zoo’s African penguins, a temperate species, tend to choose to be indoors most of the time when the temperatures dip into the single digits ― even though the zoo has provided them with heated water outside.

John Davis, curator of mammals at South Carolina’s Riverbanks Zoo and Garden told HuffPost that his organization hasn’t needed to take any unusual precautions to ensure the safety of the zoo’s animals. If anything, it’s the human caretakers who are really bearing the brunt of the cold weather. 

“All of the animals at the zoo are doing well and managing through the southern cold snap,” Davis said. “Staff are the ones enduring most of the discomfort, a testament to their dedication.”

“This week, the heaters are running full steam ahead, not so good for the power bill but doing their job in providing the heat to the animals and a brief retreat for the zookeepers to warm themselves in between animal care duties.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article attributed quotes about zoo staff staying warm to Dave Bernier of Lincoln Park Zoo. Those statements were from John Davis of Riverbanks Zoo and Garden.