Cold Weather Critters – Winter at Two Michigan Zoos

Have you ever wondered what happens at zoos around Pure Michigan when the temperatures drop and the snow starts to fall? Instead of hibernating, our furry, scaly and feathered friends receive excellent care around the clock, with a few of them hoping you’ll visit!

Read more on what Pure Michigan’s zoo animals do in the winter via guest bloggers Dan Malone of John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids and Jennie Miller of the Detroit Zoo in Royal Oak.

Dan Malone – John Ball Zoo

While John Ball Zoo closes its gates to the public from November thru February, its business as usual for the animals and zookeepers. There’s still so much that goes on behind closed doors! Winter truly transforms the zoo into a wonderland for the animals. Most of Zoo’s 1,400-plus animal residents spend the cold, snowy season in toasty, warm indoor quarter’s right here in the Zoo.

Animals that can tolerate winter temperatures go in and out as usual over the colder months. The tigers, bears, otters, cougars and snow leopards, to name a few, simply love the snow and cold.  Many warm weather animals enjoy time outside during warmer winter days. The chimpanzees especially like to go on a winter “hike”, though they prefer to keep their feet dry. They carefully navigate their exhibit following in the footsteps of the Zookeepers or restricting themselves to sheltered, grassy areas. To be sure the animals stay comfortable, they have access to their indoor dens so they can warm up whenever they please.

Zookeepers especially enjoy finding clever ways to keep the animals busy and stimulated without the traffic of visitors.  This kind of animal care is called enrichment and is practiced all year on almost all animal species. Enrichment enhances the animals’ behavioral, physical, social and psychological well-being.  The practice encourages those natural behaviors like foraging, stalking, scent marking, climbing, scratching, etc.   The “art” of administering enrichment is to keep it consistently inconsistent.  This can be anything from having the penguins chase minnows around their tank to introducing a new scent to the ‘big cats’, namely the tigers and snow leopard.

Photo Courtesy of John Ball Zoo

Photo Courtesy of John Ball Zoo

So while John Ball Zoo is closed during the winter months, there’s still so much happening with your animal friends. See you for our spring opening on March 12!

Jennie Miller – Detroit Zoo

With fewer guests and more active animals, a winter visit to the Detroit Zoo for a healthy dose of “Vitamin Z” is the ultimate cool experience.

The Detroit Zoo is open 362 days a year, and winter is a magnificent time to see animals both indoors and out. Many animals are especially active in the colder winter months, including the gray wolves, wolverines, Japanese macaques, tigers, camels, polar bears, arctic foxes and red pandas.  The Detroit Zoo also has many indoor areas to explore, including the Edward Mardigian Sr. River Otter Habitat, the Matilda R. Wilson Free-Flight Aviary, the Butterfly Garden, the Holden Reptile Conservation Center, the National Amphibian Conservation Center, the Great Apes of Harambee and the Penguinarium. While it’s too cold for the giraffes and rhinos to be outside, there are indoor viewing areas for visitors to see these majestic animals year round.

Photo Courtesy of The Detroit Zoo

Photo Courtesy of The Detroit Zoo

The Detroit Zoo ensures the safety of animals all year round, so those that are sensitive to colder temperatures are provided with access to warm places and extra materials that help with insulation. Providing animals with the choice of where to spend their time is important regardless of temperatures, and the Zoo does this whenever possible. Some animals may change their behavior patterns in colder months, which can include how active they are or how much they eat. Many of the animals really enjoy the winter months and take full advantage of the colder temperatures and snow.

On select nights through December 31, visitors can enjoy Wild Lights, presented by Bank of America, and experience five million LED lights on trees, buildings and more than 100 animal sculptures along a path through the front half of the Detroit Zoo. USA Today has nominated Wild Lights as among the Best Zoo Lights in the nation. Vote in their readers’ poll before December 23rd! Other activities include photos with Santa (through December 23), the Polar Express 4-D Experience, arts and crafts, ice sculptures, and the 22-foot-tall, 150-foot-long Polar Plunge snow slide!

Photo Courtesy of The Detroit Zoo

Photo Courtesy of The Detroit Zoo

What is your favorite animal found at the Zoo? Share with us below!

Dan Malone

Dan Malone received his BS degree from Michigan State University, zoology major. He worked as a manager in a restaurant for 25 before he landing his zookeeper job at John Ball Zoo. Dan’s responsibilities as an animal care supervisor include supervising, interviewing and hiring the zookeepers.  He has had a lifelong interest in reptiles and amphibians, primarily snakes and has been involved with the care and breeding of a number of snake species for over 30 years. Follow John Ball Zoo on Facebook and Instagram.

Jennie Miller

Jennie Miller is the communications manager for the Detroit Zoological Society, which operates the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Zoo and was recently named the 2015 Best-Managed Nonprofit by Crain’s Detroit Business. Follow the Detroit Zoo on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

7 Michigan Light Displays that Will Leave a Twinkle in Your Eyes

The holidays are an extremely busy time of year with all of the parties, shopping and preparations. If you need a break from the hectic nature of the holiday season to take in the scenery, be sure to visit one of these seven great Michigan light displays and possibly create a new family tradition! 

Wayne County Lightfest - Westland

The Wayne County Lightfest in Westland is the largest and longest drive-through holiday light show in the Midwest as it features more than 47 giant animated holiday-themed displays. Lightfest is open through December 31, but be sure to mark your calendars for December 15 for Toy night where you can bring a new, unwrapped toy in lieu of the entrance fee. Visitors enter Lightfest at Hines Drive and Merriman Road in Westland and exit onto Warren Avenue near Telegraph Road in Dearborn Heights. When you’ve reached the end, don’t forget to stop for a visit to Santa’s Workshop, at Warrendale Park. Santa will be there until Dec. 23 and children can bring their wish lists for Santa and drop them off in the giant mailbox.

Christmas at Crossroads Holiday Magic – Flint

Bundle up and come visit during this special time when thousands of lights sparkle like tiny stars throughout the Crossroads Village. You’ll find villagers making vintage crafts, shops full of great gifts and the beloved Huckleberry Railroad waiting to take you on a festive nighttime ride.  Hurry and buy your tickets now as some times are already sold out. Your whole family will love this holiday celebration that goes through December 30.


The Big, Bright Light Show - Rochester

Brighten your holidays in downtown Rochester with The Big, Bright Light Show, celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The buildings in downtown Rochester will be covered with more than 1 million points of glimmering holiday light. It will be lit every evening until January 3. As a bonus, the lights will be aglow every weekend in January through the Fire & Ice Festival. Be sure to check out the wonderful Rochester businesses while you gaze at the city’s lit-up beauty.

nite lites

Nite Lites - Jackson

The 2015 season is the 20th year for Nite Lites in Jackson! One of Michigan’s largest Christmas light displays, this animated drive-through display is over one mile long! Each year the Jackson County Fairgrounds are filled with dancing lights featuring scenes with reindeer, Santa Claus and the Nativity among the millions of lights. Winter Wonderland–inside the American 1 Events Center each weekend in December–features many kid-friendly activities. Get your photo taken with Santa Claus himself, watch a holiday puppet show, or take a ride on the kid’s holiday train. Real live reindeer will be stopping by for a special visit on three nights only so plan your visit now.

Christmas Lite Show - Grand Rapids

Through January 2, you can enjoy Michigan’s largest Christmas light show! The Christmas Lite show uses more than 40 animated displays that stretch almost two miles. Now in its 19th year, Christmas Lite Show is a family tradition for thousands of folks in the Grand Rapids area and beyond.

detroit zoo

Wild Lights – Royal Oak

This list wouldn’t be complete without the Wild Lights at the Detroit Zoo! Experience the magic of the Detroit Zoo in winter as you take in the lights and the sights and enjoy holiday entertainment and activities for guests of all ages. More than five million LED lights will illuminate trees, buildings and more than 100 animal sculptures throughout the front of the Zoo until December 31. Advance ticket purchase is advised as many nights might sell out. New this year, a fun activity to check out is the Polar Plunge, a 22-foot-tall, 150-foot-long slide.


Light up the Soo - Sault Sainte Marie

Visit the Tower of History this holiday season and experience the lights of Sault Sainte Marie from 210 feet in the air. Businesses, homes, and area attractions will be decked out in festive lights for your viewing pleasure. Celebrate this wonderful time of year by creating a new family tradition with a trip to the top of the Tower. This light display will start on December 18 and go through December 31.

Which light displays will you be visiting this holiday season?

Join Pure Michigan on an Interactive, Virtual Trip to the Detroit Zoo!

There are many family-fun destinations in Pure Michigan, including the iconic exhibits of the Detroit Zoo. From the largest polar bear exhibit in North America to the Giraffe Encounter deck, the Detroit Zoo has been awing fans from near and far since 1928. As one of the first zoos in the nation to use open, natural exhibits, we’re excited to bring you a live tour from around the grounds.

Photo courtesy of Jennie Miller

Photo courtesy of Jennie Miller; Detroit Zoo.

Pure Michigan is offering you the opportunity to experience the Detroit Zoo – virtually! We’re partnering with Georama, a real-time vicarious travel platform, so you can virtually tour the the zoo just by simply logging into on Friday, July 17 at 12 noon to 2 pm Eastern. Tom Daldin, host of PBS show Under the Radar, will serve as your travel guide and adventure lead in this digital exploration.

Have a question about the Detroit Zoo animals you’ve always wanted answered? With the interactive live-stream, you can ask Tom questions on the spot – and get a response immediately – as we take you through the exhibits on a sightseeing adventure.

Photo courtesy of Roy Lewis

Photo courtesy of Roy Lewis; Detroit Zoo.

We’ll begin the journey with a ride on the Tauber Family Railroad to the African Grasslands, where we’ll get up-close-and-personal with warthogs, rhinos, zebras and even feed giraffes at the Giraffe Encounter. From there, Tom will take you on an Australian Outback Adventure, dance with wolves at the Cotton Family Wolf Wilderness exhibit and journey to the Arctic Ring of Life.

Rhinos - Tamba and Jasiri - Roy Lewis

Photo courtesy of Roy Lewis; Detroit Zoo.

We’ll round out the live experience with a carousel ride, a visit to Dinosauria, the Reptile Conservation Center and the National Amphibian Conservation Center. We’re excited for you to join us on this Pure Michigan adventure! See you at on Friday, July 17 at 12 noon to 2pm.

What is your favorite animal to visit at the Detroit Zoo?