Learn about how zoo elephants stay warm during winter. 

What happens to zoo elephants during cold weather?

If you have visited the zoo during the winter, you might have noticed that many outdoor exhibits are closed. These exhibits are more than likely closed due to the cold temperatures, especially if you live where the winters are harsh. 

One of the outdoor exhibits you might see closed during the winter months is the outdoor elephant exhibit. This closure of areas leaves many people wondering, what happens to the zoo animals during the winter?

Can elephants survive in cold weather? How do zoos make sure the animals stay warm? Our African elephant zoo team wants to share information about the largest land mammal when it gets cold outside.

What does a zoo do with its animals when it gets too cold?

There is this misconception that zoo animals stay outside all year long. This statement is not true. Zoos do not leave animals outside that cannot tolerate cold temperatures. Those zoo animals come inside when temperatures drop below their threshold

Some animals like the Canada lynx and red pandas get to stay outside because they have adaptations to survive the extreme temperatures. On the other hand, African animals, like elephants and giraffes, are usually placed inside when the temperatures get too cold. 

What happens to zoo elephants during cold weather?

Although elephants are warm-blooded animals, these animals do not have the adaptations to survive freezing temperatures. Warm-blooded animals can regulate their body temperature no matter their environment.

So when the weather gets below 35 degrees, elephants are ideally kept inside for their safety and comfort. However, elephants are not restricted just to the indoors. Some zoos have outdoor areas that allow elephants to explore the outdoors if they want to. 

Can elephants survive cold weather?

Cold weather is not ideal for elephants. However, wild elephants have exposure to both hot and cold temperatures. African elephants that live in Botswana experience temperatures in the low 40s during the night, and some elephants that live in the mountain areas also experience cold temperatures. 

Low temperatures seem to not bother elephants because of their large bodies. The weight of an adult male elephant is between 4,000 and 14,000 pounds, and adult female elephants range in weight between 6,000 to 8,000 pounds. Thanks to their large body masses, they can retain heat better and stay warm during cold days. 

How to support African elephant zoo research and conservation

Through the years, zoos have improved the living conditions of elephants, thanks to research. One of the African elephant conservation groups helping to provide zoos with this research is us. At For Elephants, we research elephant biology to improve zoo management and exhibits that reflect an elephant’s natural biology and behavior.

We have a laboratory at our partners, Elephants Alive, headquarters. Our research is also helping improve the fertility rates of zoo elephants. They are currently not self-sustaining in zoos and are at risk of “captive extinction.” You can support our African elephant zoo research by joining the Herd of Heroes. This program allows you to make a monthly donation of your choice to support our mission. 


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