Forecast improves, Detroit Zoo animals venture outside

Neal Rubin
The Detroit News

The kangaroos, wolves and otters clocked in and went back to work at the Detroit Zoo Saturday after a record-setting stretch of cold weather had kept them indoors.

As temperatures climbed to the mid-30s, "the typical winter-hardy species were let out," said curator of mammals Elizabeth Arbaugh.

Meantime, zookeepers and facilities staffers were let off the hook: they had been working overnight in shifts, making sure the giraffes, rhinos and other valued lodgers remained comfortable.


The Detroit Zoological Society was among the major recipients of federal business loans.

After a high of 36 Saturday afternoon, said meteorologist Sara Pampreen of the National Weather Service station in White Lake Township, the evening would bring a chance of drizzle while patchy fog moved in.

The fog was expected to burn off Sunday morning, followed by an afternoon high of 46.

Monday should top out around 48, Pampreen said, "though we do have some rain working in around the afternoon." The forecast for the remainder of the week calls for highs in the mid-30s, lows in the 20s, and potential periods of rain and snow mix after Tuesday.

At the zoo, bison had wandered outside Friday when temperatures ascended to the low teens and the doors opened to hardy visitors after two days of complete shutdown.

Only the polar bears and snow monkeys braved the Wednesday and Thursday elements, when both the highs (1 and 3 degrees) and lows (-13 and -14) set dismal records for the dates in Detroit.

They always have the option of dashing back indoors, Arbaugh said, or using outdoor shelters built into their habitats.

"We've been spending a lot of overnights," she said, with precautions taken for the humans as well — hardy hats, hand- and toe-warmers, rides to the enclosures in heated carts.

While temperatures in the enclosures are monitored by an advanced computer system, she said, generators and supplemental heaters were in place as wind chills hit negative 30 degrees.

The giraffes, great apes and birds — all of which hunker down inside for the winter anyway — "got a little extra boost," she said.

As for Pampreen, the meteorologist, she said she was lucky: the two worst days were her days off, so she only had to venture outside sporadically, at the insistence of her dog.

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