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Lions, Tigers and Bears Find Respite From Wild Weather

With arctic air plunging the Midwest and Northeast into a deep freeze cold enough to ice over the Great Lakes while surpassing nearly two decades of winter records, the 2013-2014 season has contributed to the death of thousands of wild ducks.

Even indigenous species may find it hard to adjust to extraordinarily cold winters and lingering cold during spring, which has motivated zookeepers to prepare their facilities to accommodate their exotic wildlife for all seasons.

Wild temperature swings and cold snaps continued through March with winter refusing to relinquish its grip as the spring season began. Toledo, Ohio, experienced their snowiest winter ever, with a record-breaking snowfall of 84.8 inches. Weather data for the city has been collected since the late 1800s.

"There was a delay to any significant warmups in March across the East due to the unusually persistent cold pattern locked into place," Meteorologist Andy Mussoline said.

"Depending on the temperatures, they'll either have access (to the exhibits) or we'll keep them in," Lanandra Russell, Zoo New England head administrative assistant to animal management, said.

Zoo New England manages the Franklin Park Zoo in Boston and the Stone Zoo in Stoneham, Mass.

Russell said if temperatures are low but safe for the animals, the team lets the animals decide if they want to be outdoors.

If temperatures are too low, the team will prevent the animals from being outdoors at all.

Special accommodations and installations are also made within the exhibits to maintain a comfortable environment for the animals, she said.

Lions and tigers, who are acclimated to warmer climates in their natural habitat, have heated rocks installed in their exhibits, which they can lounge on during cold days.

"It's built onto the exhibit," Russell said, adding the heated rock acts like an electric blanket for the animal.

Columbus Zoo and Aquarium also provides heated rocks for the lions and tigers living in the Midwest, organization spokeswoman Patty Peters said.

"We have indoor habitats," Peters said. "Depending on the animal's ability (to withstand outdoor temperatures), they have access. They have the option to go in or out. If it's really bad out, we won't let them go out."

Animals who are acclimated to cooler climates are also taken care of during the spring and summer months with special air conditioned facilities, according to Russell and Peters.

"Our Red Pandas are more acclimated to cooler temperatures," Russell said. "They can go into the air conditioned area."

During hot summer days when animals retreat into the cool air, a camera allows visitors to view the Pandas in the facility.

Peters said Reindeer also need to be kept cool throughout the year with habitat misters because of their need for cold climates.

Polar bears are given the ability to cool off and take a swim in the summer with a pool of water that is kept at a constant 55 to 60 degrees F, which also keeps the water from freezing in the winter months, Peters said.

Throughout the year, special treats are also provided to the animals.

"For the lions and tigers we freeze meatballs for them," Russell said. "We provide ice treats for the different animals."

In addition to maintaining seasonal accommodations, certain exhibits are only featured in the spring and summer months, including Zoo New England's annual butterfly exhibit and Budgie exhibit.