Down Comes the Rain

We have been having some unique rainy weather this winter in San Diego, and all animals react differently to it. As keepers, it means we have more work and preparations to make sure the animals are kept as warm and dry as they want to be. A keeper’s job is never done during rainy days: we have to make sure all drains are kept clear and that there aren’t any large puddles in any of the exhibits. So the last thing we think about is getting soaked from head to toe and completely covered with mud—it is just part of the “uniform”!

People often ask how zoo animals react to the rain, so I thought I’d share what we see here in Panda Canyon. The Panda Trek area is home to animals from cooler parts of Asia: snow leopards, red pandas, takins, and of course, giant pandas. Each type of animal has its own special adaptations that help them cope with cold, wet weather—it’s what they would encounter in their native habitat. And they have their own ways of reacting to weather here in San Diego; sometimes it differs even among individuals of the same species.

The snow leopards all seem to have a different reaction to heavy rain. During the recent storms, Anna and Ramil chose the best caves in their exhibits to curl up and stay dry in. Young Penny, on the other hand, was extra active, running around and playing in the rain. She has been enjoying her enrichment gourd, often taking it up to the overhead tunnel to play with.

red pandaLike giant pandas, red pandas have thick fur that allows the rain to run off so their skin stays dry. Flynn is currently in off-exhibit area, but seems to choose to stay in the building and out of the rain. Yet, Honey seems to enjoy the rain. She has access to a bedroom area, but she chooses to sleep at the very top of her tree—she obviously doesn’t mind getting her fur wet!

Sichuan takinThe Sichuan takins have many adaptations for the weather in the snowy, rainy mountains of the Sichuan Providence in China. Their large nose warm up each inhalation of cold air before it reaches their lungs. Their thick, oily fur coats keep them warm and the rain just runs off them; that fur coat also helps them keep cool during the warmer months. In their native habitat, takins are pretty tough when it comes to the weather—but don’t let that lead to any conclusions about our four girls at the Zoo. Summer, Eve, Duli, and Mei don’t like to get wet at all! All four huddle in their cave or in the barn to stay dry during any rainstorm. And they greatly enjoy lounging on their giant hay beds in the barn on a cold rainy day.

Giant pandas also have a thick coat that helps them stay warm and dry in the rain, yet our three giant pandas react differently to very wet weather. Gao Gao was really active the last couple of days before the storms hit. He has been enjoying one of our off-exhibit areas and being visited by the Panda and Friends tours. But as soon as it started raining, he showed us he didn’t want to get out of bed or go outside. He would get up, huff at us, stomp his paw, and then lie back down in his tub. At that time, we knew he wasn’t going anywhere—and we couldn’t make him!

Bai Yun is a bear that always gets her way and doesn’t like to get her fur wet. She has been enjoying her shelf in her bedroom during all the rain. When we put food in her exhibit, she quickly grabs the bamboo pieces she wants and takes them back to her cozy, dry bedroom to eat.

Xiao Liwu by Helene Hoffman

Xiao Liwu by Helene Hoffman

We’ve noticed that most of our older cubs seemed to like the rain, and would always get playful and run around during wet weather. Mr. Wu is no different! He does a lot of running around and even enjoys sleeping in the downpour. However, lightning and thunder make him nervous. When nature’s light and sound show began during the recent storms, he decided to sleep at the very top of his pine tree, where apparently he feels safe. He also has the choice to go into his bedroom, but he seems to prefer to sleep out in the rain.

That’s how the animals in my area respond to the rain. Be sure to watch all of our live-streaming cameras and take note of who hides and who delights in the deluge!

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, In Peaceful Panda Canyon.