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Zoo Knoxville taking steps to protect animals ahead of winter weather

A spokesperson for the zoo said animals will be sheltered in warm quarters with outdoor access limited — especially for non-native species.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Zoo Knoxville is taking steps to keep its animal residents warm and cozy ahead of the upcoming winter weather in East Tennessee, expected to bring temperatures to the teens or single digits on Friday.

Tina Rolen, a spokesperson with the zoo, said some of their protocols include sheltering animals inside warm quarters and limiting their access to the outside, especially for non-native species. The zoo also said they have extra heat sources available, with extra fuel for those heaters.

They also said they prepare diets in advance in case the commissary staff cannot make it to the zoo, due to ice or snow. They also said there is a plan in place to make sure vital staff arrives.

According to Rolen, that plan can include four-wheel drive vehicles. Vital staff may also stay overnight if it becomes necessary. The staff would also be supplied with ice spikes for their shoes in case ice becomes an issue, as well as hand warmers.

"Interestingly, it involves people planning as much as animal planning," said Rolen in an email.

The zoo will also be monitoring the park for safety. Typically, Rolen said the zoo would not close ahead of time. However, she said the zoo also would also not hesitate to make the call to close should they be "unable to provide a safe or acceptable guest experience."

She said she anticipates ice on the pathways would be their main concern during the upcoming winter weather event.

"There are some surprises sometimes, like elephants. If we get a little snow, they have barn access, and they can get in and out of the cold. I've seen them in the past really enjoy snow — messing around with it, feeling it, smelling it. Then they'll go back inside. Some animals that may not have been exposed to snow see it as a lot of fun," said Phil Colclough, the director of animal care.

A blast of arctic air is expected to hit East Tennessee later this week, bringing freezing temperatures later Thursday night into Friday morning which can turn rain showers into snow and ice.

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