You know you've always wondered.

One animal in particular at the Milwaukee County Zoo loves blistering winter weather. Her name, fittingly, is Snow Lilly, and she’s the 32-year-old polar bear and grande dame of the Zoo’s winter landscape. Most of the others will tolerate only limited exposure to the cold, which isn’t surprising given the long list of African species in residence. Many – including the giraffes, elephants, rhinos, apes, and some of the smaller animals – split their time between the heated indoor and unheated outdoor sections of their enclosures, although the zookeepers may block access to the latter if there’s a lot of ice. While predisposed to warmer weather, animals such as primates will still stretch their legs outside to get their blood flowing.

For a select few, there’s just no enduring the brutalities of January in Wisconsin. To accommodate their needs, there’s a large chamber called the “Winter Quarters” that amounts to a heated underground barn. A variety of African hoofed animals – waterbucks, kudus, zebras, impalas – reside there during the season’s most frigid weather. The 40-or-so stalls are large and filled with hay (or whatever is appropriate) and, in certain cases, warmed by a big heat lamp above. Some South American animals, the pig-like tapirs and the alpacas, are also kept in the Quarters, according to Jennifer Diliberti-Shea, spokeswoman for the zoo.

The Winter Quarters are situated beneath the centrally located Big Cat Building. When the temperatures “are not bitterly cold,” the animals are brought outdoors for some exercise and fresh air, according to Diliberti-Shea. ◆

‘What Happens to Zoo Animals During the Winter?’ appears in the November 2017 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning October 30, or buy a copy at

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