The San Diego Zoo’s reindeer received a “cool” surprise this morning (Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017), when 16 tons of fresh, powdery snow was blown into their exhibit for them to enjoy. When the two female and one male reindeer entered their habitat, they immediately headed for the snow.
“Our reindeer are really enjoying the snow,” said Tammy Batson, lead keeper, San Diego Zoo. “Two-year-old Rodney especially seemed to enjoy the surprise, as he began prancing, running, jumping, pawing and eating the icy treat—while the two female reindeer rubbed their noses in the cold powder and dug with their hooves.
“Reindeer are perfect tundra animals, with specific adaptations for snowy environments,” Batson added. “Being herbivores, they eat on the ground—so they not only played in the snow, but dug in it to see what was underneath.”
The snow was part of a special enrichment activity for the reindeer. Enrichment is significant, as it keeps the animals stimulated and active, allowing them to use their natural behaviors. The snow was made possible by many generous donors who contributed to the Zoo’s online Animal Care Wish List. The Wish List is sort of like an online gift registry for animals at the San Diego Zoo and San Diego Zoo Safari Park. It is updated monthly and can be found at sandiegozoo.org/wishlist.
Reindeer, also known as caribou in North America, is a species of deer native to arctic, subarctic, tundra, boreal and mountainous regions of northern Europe, Siberia, and North America. They are the only species of deer in which males and females both grow antlers. Males generally drop their impressive antlers after breeding season, around November; but females keep their antlers for a longer period of time. Besides antlers, one of the most notable features of a reindeer is its nose. The specialized nose helps to warm cold air before it enters the lungs, and it also works as a super sniffer. An acute sense of smell helps reindeer find food hidden under snow, steer clear of danger and determine direction. Reindeer also have hairy hooves, which give them added traction when walking on frozen ground, ice, mud or snow. Other fun facts about reindeer: They can run up to 50 miles per hour—and they are excellent swimmers!
The Zoo’s small herd of reindeer can be seen on the hillside behind the polar bear exhibit in the Northern Frontier habitat. Zoo guests can see reindeer and hundreds of other fascinating animals at the Zoo during Jungle Bells presented by California Coast Credit Union—now through Dec. 23, and Dec. 25 through Jan. 1, 2018. During each day of Jungle Bells, the Zoo is open until 8 p.m.; however, the Zoo closes at 5 p.m. Dec. 24. This holiday celebration allows guests to experience exotic animals after dark, enjoy seasonal entertainment and see festive lights. For a schedule of activities and more information, visit sandiegozoo.org/junglebells.