WASHINGTON COUNTY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Alice the penguin has a new story to bring back to her birds of a feather today after the staff at Brights Zoo gave her the chance to experience snow for the first time in her life!
It might sound counterintuitive that a penguin has never seen snow, but Alice is an African Black-Footed penguin that hails from warm waters, so she likely never would have seen it in the wild.
Alice is the zoo’s standout experience penguin, who is specially trained for socialization and interaction with guests. Most of the zoo’s penguins are a little too skittish to venture out, but Alice’s training made her the perfect candidate for a walk on the cold side.
Alice wasn’t largely concerned with the snow like some local pets might have been Monday morning, and most of her time outside was spent keeping up with her favorite handler.
“You want to change their environment,” Zoo Director David Bright said. “You want to change their mindset, making sure that they always have something to stimulate them.”
The vast majority of the exhibits on-site aren’t able to go out when temps are low, but the 20% that had the choice of inside or outside got to enjoy a chilly start to 2022.
A large part in determining whether an animal gets an icy adventure is their species temperature range: a guideline for proper care that outlines when it’s too hot or cold for that specific animal. When breath starts fogging and water starts freezing, Brights Zoo keeps a close eye on who can and can’t be allowed outside.
One of the zoo’s biggest snow fans were the Bactrian Camels, which are originally from the steppes of Mongolia. Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, is sitting at -17 degrees Fahrenheit at the time of this writing, which might explain why they were so happy to be out.
Bright said zoo staff give extra feed to the antelope to encourage weight gain for the winter, which is relatable, and that the extra pounds help keep them insulated.
For those that can’t get out, Bright said the staff brings the snow to them. It may seem like quite a length to go to for some, but Bright said the enrichment that new experience provides can be vital for keeping animals happy and healthy.
“It’s an experience they don’t see every day, something new, so they’re going to go out and check it out,” Bright said. Kind of like we would if we were young, you gotta go out and play a little bit.”
For those that would like to meet Alice post-snow, a brand-new penguin experience program is opening in the zoo where visitors can see behind-the-scenes details, visit with a penguin and find out just how much it takes to care for aquatic birds.