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Southern zoos cope with record-breaking chill

Audubon Zoo in New Orleans is shown in this FOX 8 file photo. Audubon Zoo in New Orleans is shown in this FOX 8 file photo.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Zookeepers in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Monroe, La., had to tell visitors they'd see fewer animals than usual because some were warming up indoors, out of the wind and Arctic air. 

The Jackson Zoo in Mississippi was closed Monday and Tuesday, its 480 animals kept inside - except for the springbok. The speedy, high-leaping South African antelope wouldn't go into their night shelters Monday and were enjoying Tuesday's sunshine, though the door was left open for them, zoo spokeswoman Lucy Barton said. 

Chasing springbok or other hoofed stock can cause injury or damaging stress to the animals, she said. 

Jackson's temperature never got above 31 on Tuesday; Monday's low of 15 was expected to be followed by one of 16 Tuesday night or early Wednesday. 

Monroe, in northeast Louisiana, had a low of 13 and a high of 31 on Monday, but nearly all of the 400-plus animals at the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo could go outside if they wanted. 

A few smaller monkeys and other primates are kept off display, in the warmth, director Joe Clawson said. "As smart as they are, some are not as wise as they should be about coming back where it's warm," he said. 

Baboons don't seem to have any trouble, but guenons and the patas monkey can be a problem, he said. 

Tropical animals are displayed indoors. But flamingos stand in the spray of their fountain when it's cold, because the water coming out of the tap is always a bit warmer than 60 degrees, he said. 

That temperature keeps hippos happy in their indoor pool, too. "You and me, neither of us would like to take a bath at 60 degrees. For them it's fine," Clawson said. 

Keepers remove any ice that forms in drinking bowls or troughs and add warm water twice a day. 

"We make sure nutrition is up. For carnivores we offer them extra meat," Clawson said. "For primates, omnivores, we give them foods that are high energy" - including Fig Newtons. 

Curator Joel Hamilton said keepers at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans add patio heaters to those always set out in the winter in the open-air aviaries, with tarps on the sides as windbreaks to protect the more than 1,400 animals and 330 species under their care. 

New Orleans had a low of 26 and a high of 37 on Tuesday. Alligators stay at the bottom of their pool when it's cold, and mammals can go in and out of the areas where they stay at night or when hurricanes approach, Hamilton said. 

Gorillas and orangutans went outside Monday, when the temperature reached the low 40s, but it was a bit cooler Tuesday and Hamilton expected them to stay inside. Reptiles stay year-round behind glass in a "toasty-warm" building. 

At BREC's Baton Rouge Zoo, spokeswoman Katherine "Kaki" Heilegenthal said, "Our biggest change is less visitors in the zoo when it's cold outside." 

Tuesday's temperatures ranged from 19 to 37 in Baton Rouge. A few of the 1,000 animals were kept in indoor display areas during the day, she said, but in general, a daytime temperature of 34 or 36 degrees "is colder for us than it is for them." 

The tiger enclosure has heating coils turned on year-round under the concrete near the viewing windows, she said. "They like to lie there year-round, like a cat on the hood of your car."

(Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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