We have survived the intense summer heat and the swarms of mosquitos and fire ants. Now it is clear that the seasons are changing as we move through the cool but brief Texas fall into the more biting cold of winter. Even in this month of October, some nights have temperatures below comfortable T-shirt weather, and on the following mornings it is even possible to see one’s breath. While this is still Texas, so incredibly hot days follow these spurts of chill, the cold will only become more common as the months continue. As the days tend to get colder, the staff and the animals at the Sanctuary take several measures to prepare for the oncoming winter season.
One of the first measures taken is adding hay to the animals’ houses. The smaller non-feline animals have already gotten hay into their houses, starting last week. These include our three coatimundis, our ring-tailed lemur Popeye, and Cappy the Capybara. The coatis were even given blankets to snuggle with in their homes. Once the weather becomes consistently around 40 degrees, the larger animals will receive hay as well. This hay will get changed once a week when the houses are cleaned, as well as being spot-cleaned as needed.
Once the night-time temperature drops to 55 degrees or below, heat lamps are hooked up to the houses of the smaller animals, which again include the coatis, lemur, and capybara. A few weeks later when the cold becomes more consistent, the smaller cats, such as our ocelots, and our older cats, such as Makeen the Bengal tiger, start using heat lamps as well. The lamps are turned on around six o’clock at night and unplugged in the morning once the sun begins to warm the Sanctuary.
The diets of the animals change when the weather gets colder. More energy is needed to keep warm and stay active in the winter, so the cats start getting fed more meat as the keepers see that the animals don’t leave a single crumb from their morning meal. The food charts in the morning are constantly being adjusted at this time and more meat is pulled daily for diet preparation. The bears as well begin eating more to prepare for winter. Because this is Texas, our bears will not go into a full hibernation. Rather, they go into “torpor,” which is a state of decreased activity, resulting in a lower body temperature and lower metabolic rate. When this happens, the bears will require less food and won’t get fed every single day.
The bears start spending a lot of time in their dens once winter comes. Their den floors get littered with hay for added warmth and comfort. The dens are scattered throughout the 5 acres of the bear territory, from the feeding areas to deep in the woods. Each bear has established its own den in its own self-proclaimed territory. Because of torpor, the bears will spend a lot of winter sleeping in their dens to save energy.
With all of this preparation going on, we need a little extra help! You can visit www.bigcat.org to see how you can donate and help all the residents get through an unpredictable Texas winter! Every little bit helps.