The genius of Red River Zoo is that they work with North Dakota’s climate rather than against it. This isn’t to say they haven’t got creatures who’d rather stay indoors when it’s cold out. If you could ask their turtles and tarantulas what they think of the winter, they’d likely give it scathing reviews. Their heartier beasts approve of the cold, however, and it’s because of them that Red River Zoo stays open year-round. Here are some of the winterproof stoics you may see lounging outdoors right now.
These goat-like hulks are more than meets the eye. Although their rounded snouts and gentle eyes seem to betray docility, they’re actually quite feisty. Red River Zoo had to develop special pens just to contain them during medical examinations. They’re very agile in spite of their stocky legs as well, and they may be found bouncing around mountains as if they were inflated with helium. If the Sichuan Takin looks familiar, that may be because you recognize it from Beauty and the Beast — it’s actually the inspiration for one of the titular characters. Can you guess which one?
These little rapscallions might look like our raccoons, but instead of garbage they steal hearts. Their ruddy fuzz not only protects them against the winter, but also helps them blend in among the tree mosses that grow where they live in the wild. They possess thumb-like projections to assist in gripping bamboo and occasional hitchhiking. The red panda is known to live alongside its cousin the giant panda, as they both relish the bamboo that grows in China’s mountainous regions. This means Kung Fu Panda isn’t a total fiction, although in real life red pandas only share territory with giant pandas, not martial arts secrets.
The most striking feature of the Pallas’ cat is its eyes. Its pupils are round rather than almond shaped, giving it a frank expression. In the wild these pusses devour gerbils, voles, partridges, and a pikas, which are like hamsters but cuter. The Pallas’ cat prefers stealth over speed, and ambushes its plush toy prey from the shadows. With the longest hair of all the wildcats, Pallas’ cats shrug off temperatures as low as 60 degrees below zero. Although they’re the same size as your cat at home, their generous fluff makes Pallas’ cats look much bigger than they really are. They are not advised as pets, especially if you have beloved pikas in your home.
North American River Otter
With its oily double coat, muscular streamlined body, closable ears and nose, and ability to hold its breath for up to eight minutes, the otter is nature’s perfect subaquatic hunter. Although Red River Zoo’s resident otters go without their pool during the winter months, they hardly seem to mind since they enjoy sliding and playing with toys as much as they do swimming. These adorable scamps ravage our native fish populations, but only go for fish that we don’t care for, making them our friends and not our competition. (Contrast this to the beaver, which doesn’t even want fish but will still scare them all away with furious tail slaps as soon as it sees your boat coming. What a jerk.)
By David Scheller