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A ‘Chill’ Time at the Oglebay Good Zoo in Wheeling

Photo by Scott McCloskey Mackenzie Diebold, an animal care apprentice for the Oglebay Good Zoo, takes a moment to check on the donkeys in the zoo’s barn yard area Friday afternoon.

WHEELING — The winter season can become a much more challenging time for zookeepers at Oglebay’s Good Zoo, especially when heavy snow and icy conditions hang around for a while.

Good Zoo Director Joe Greathouse said the winter season by far creates more challenging conditions for zookeepers, especially when many of the facility’s animals have to be moved to indoor environments during the colder months. He is quick to point out that blizzards and ice storms can become the biggest enemy for the staff of the facility.

“I would say our biggest challenge is just dealing with ice and snow,” Greathouse said. “Even though we have fewer guests (during winter months), it’s a much harder time of the year for the animal keepers because many of the animals are going to be inside during this time of year, which means a lot more barn maintenance because they are not going to be out on the pasture.”

Greathouse said that, while some of the zoo animals have access to both outdoor and indoor environments throughout the colder months, animals like servals and lemurs are moved indoors just because of the colder temperatures.

“We also have to move animals like our zebras, kangaroos, wallabies, and the ostrich … they all move inside because of the ice. It’s too easy for them to slip and fall,” Greathouse explained.

He said those animals have to stay inside while it’s icy, but are able to return to a cleared off area outside once zookeepers are able to remove the snow and ice.

“So you’re taking care of more animals inside,” he said. “You have to be more careful as you move around. A lot of times if there is a lot of snow or ice we can’t take our utility vehicles around, so it’s a lot more footwork.”

Greathouse said clearing walkways and entryways to exhibits are tasks that also can be time consuming. In addition, he said many times the zoo staff can’t use a hose to clean things during the winter because things may freeze up, so it requires a lot more wiping and sweeping.

“It adds a lot more work,” he said. “Most of the time when you get to the barn areas and animal areas it is a lot more challenging. We typically are going to bed down all of the buildings and areas more heavily with things like straw and wood chips.

“Sometimes, when we have an ice storm or get like seven or eight inches of snow and it gets packed down, (zookeepers) have to go outside and break up the ice,” Greathouse said. “For those species, it is more a slip-and-fall worry than the cold.”

Greathouse said zoo employees also install extra insulation boards for some exhibits this time of the year and they often have to use de-icer products on locks when they freeze up.

However, Greathouse said, there are a number of animals that thrive very well in the winter conditions — snow leopards, red wolves, the red panda, white cranes, and reindeer — so those animals will be outside.

Greathouse said the staff at the zoo practices emergency drills each month, and one of the drills deals with the preparation of natural disasters, which would include blizzard conditions or ice storms that may create power outages at the facility.

“We move all the generators to all the facilities that would potentially need them, and we have back-up plans for additional locations to move animals to within the zoo if a facility would lose total power and we can’t get it heated appropriately,” Greathouse explained.

He said it is a tremendous benefit for the zoo to be located close to Wilson Lodge, because in the event they would ever lose power at the zoo, the staff has the option to stay overnight at the lodge.

“So if we know a storm is coming, we can reach out to the lodge,” he said. “The team spends the night. That way we can be out there anytime of night to hook up generators.”.

Greathouse said the zoo has multiple buildings that have temperature alarms on them. In the event the temperature would drop too low, the alarm would send a message to the front desk at the lodge alerting the staff.

Wheeling is the fourth smallest city in the country that has a zoo with an Accredited Zoos and Aquariums certification, according to Greathouse. The zoo has more than 50 species of animals from all over the world.

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