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This is what winter is like at the BC Wildlife Park (PHOTOS)

While most people might think of the park as a quiet place in the winter, that's not completely accurate...
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They may be the best cared for residents in Kamloops, but they still have to spend winter outside.

So we went to go check on them.

Of course, we're talking about the animals at the BC Wildlife Park. While most people think of the park as a summertime activity, the zookeepers are still hard at work keeping the animals warm and fed.

While most people might think of the park as a quiet place in the winter, that's not completely accurate. Sure, the bears are all sleeping, and some of the other animals, like the raccoons and badgers, are on extended naps, but others are as active as ever, even relishing the chilliest of seasons.

Melany Leontowich takes care of the park's three arctic wolf siblings: AJ, Marraq and Sijja.

"They actually prefer the winter, being arctic wolves; they're really well adapted to this," she says. "As soon as it snows, they're usually one of our happier animals out there, running around and playing in the snow."

The wolves have shorter extremities and extra furrier feet than grey wolves (arctic wolves are actually a subspecies, not a sperate species of wolf). They also have built their own home inside their enclosure.

"They've dug their own den in the hillside and they'll sleep in that and huddle in there together when it does get really cold," Leontowich says. "It gets them out of the wind as well."

Their den is actually fairly impressive.

"We can't see inside, nobody has been inside it; we actually have no idea how big it is," she says. "It's probably pretty incredible because it goes right into the hillside. There's an entrance and exit point but we've actually never been all the way inside."

The wolves are active all winter, and when a golf cart drives by, they race along, easily keeping up despite the icy, snowy ground.

Not far away are the coyotes, Aggy and Victor. Both are active all winter as well, running around their enclosure and spending time in their smaller den. Both are in captivity after being found as pups; Victor was actually found at the Vancouver Airport, Leotowich says.

Robert, the bobcat, arrived for a different reason.

"When he was found, his leg was already missing and damaged," says zookeeper Danielle Rogers. "It was determined he would not likely make it with the injury he had."

Se adds bobcats can survive with three legs occasionally, but Robert's injury was too substantial.

"Robert actually... he actually gains quite a bit of weight in the winter and can be on the chunky side," Rogers tells KamloopsMatters. "He likes to stay in his denning area a fair amount."

"He'll still come out just to give a piece of his mind to everyone," she adds.

Nearby, the park's two cougars are also on the prowl, especially keeping an eye on other animals. Rogers says cougars aren't big fans of winter, partly because they don't have the jaw strength to eat frozen food.

"You don't see them in very northern areas," she says. "If they make a kill on an animal, on like a deer or bighorn sheep, they have to eat it immediately before it starts to freeze."

That doesn't mean Zoey (12) and Kalamalka (3) aren't keeping an eye on their hooved neighbours. When the deer and bison were shifted to a next-door enclosure, Rogers noticed some new behaviour.

"Our cougars, who've seen them in that enclosure before, took an extreme interest in them," she says. "To the point it made me nervous; we actually had to do some tree trimming to make sure everything was good there."

It was the deer that attracted the attention. The bison, Mama and PT (which stands for Pointed Tongue) are incredibly sturdy animals, says their caretaker, Sean Dawson. Mama is, unsurprisingly, PT's mom.

"Mama is almost 25 years old and PT is 19 years old this spring," he says.

Winter in Kamloops is nothing to the pair.

"They go wander around, lie down. In a big snowstorm, they can just sit down and ride it out, maybe go hunker down under a tree," he says. "They're pretty comfortable down to -30 C or -40 C, or so; we do have a shed for them to go in if they so choose, but I haven't seen them go use it yet."

During the cold snap in January, when temperatures dropped below -20 C and the wind whipped through the valley, PT was in the middle of her enclosure, exposed, lying and eating her breakfast, her coat collecting snow.

"If there's snow on the animal in colder temperatures, it's a sign that their fur coats are holding their body heat in very well," Dawson says. "If heat was escaping, it'd just melt the snow off their backs."

While the bison are big, Ringo is bigger. He's the park's Bactrian camel and largest animal. While not native to B.C., or even North America, he's pretty comfortable here.

"Bactrian camels are more native to areas around Mongolia rather than desert areas," Dawson says. "It's more of a grassland environment pretty similar to Kamloops."

That means Ringo is well-adapted to the local climate.

"He'll be basically naked in the summertime and pretty comfortable in up to 40 C," Dawson says. "Then during the winter, he'll have a really thick wool coat that keeps him comfortable down to -40 C."

He's got a big friendly face, but Dawson says because of Ringo's size, he's a bit of danger; if he ever stepped on someone or swung into them, he could do real damage to a person.

Ringo and Thunder, the park's male elk, actually provide something for the carnivores in the park.

"Sometimes after a tree has been in an herbivore's enclosure, like tossed around and peed on by Thunder, we can actually reuse that same Christmas tree and throw it in with the cougars and they'll get that scent of the elk."

Next week, KamloopsMatters will take a look at the other hoofed animals (elk, mountain goats and the bighorn sheep) along with the prickliest of residents. We'll follow that up with a visit with the park's birds.

 

 

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