It has been a fairly mild winter at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute in Front Royal, Virginia. But we did have one bigger snow day on Jan. 7. It snowed almost 6 inches at some of our barns. The barn that houses our Persian onager mares and foals had lots of snow, and it was the first ever snow fall for the foals. There are no snow days for zookeepers though! While school systems are closing, we are making sure the animals are well taken care of and fed. We keep working with as little disruption as possible, making sure that all of our animals have a warm and dry place to get out of the weather (if they want) and plenty of food to eat.
Ungulates, such as equids (which includes onagers), maintain their body temperature by constantly eating. Their digestive systems act as a furnace, and if the furnace has enough fuel (forage in this instance), then they can stay warm. The first step of our snow preparations is to provide all of the onagers with plenty of forage. If it seems like we might need to make the barns extra cozy and insulated from the cold, we’ll put out extra bedding or heaters. There are guidelines that we follow to give us parameters of what each species needs — such as heat, bedding and social dynamics.