Zoo workers care for animals during historic blizzard


Shortly after the late December blizzard in Erie County, CSEA Zoological Society of Buffalo Local Secretary Sydney Hollasch stands in feet of snow that buried the entrance to one of the animal enclosure at the Buffalo Zoo. (Photo by Kelsey Lowery)

BUFFALO — The Buffalo Zoo has always been open to the public rain or shine, but the recent blizzard that paralyzed the area over Christmas weekend forced the zoo to close its doors and go into what many of the zookeepers describe as “survival mode.”

The zookeepers worked tirelessly to prepare for the storm, including putting most of the animals into indoor enclosures but their work didn’t stop when the snow fell. 

Since many roads were impassible for drivers, several zookeepers who live within walking distance to the zoo made the trek to care for the animals throughout the storm. 

Like the rest of Western New York, the bitter cold and powerful winds caused snow drifts as high as the gates surrounding the zoo and knocked down several trees across the campus. 

One of the highest snow drifts was over the kookaburra exhibit’s food shed, where keepers couldn’t even see where the shed was. Rather than dig it out, they pooled food from other sources around the zoo to feed the kookaburras. 

“We all just went into survival mode,” said Kelsey Lowery, a zookeeper. “You just do what you have to do in a situation like that.”

The bison enclosure had a snow drift so high against the fence that separates it from Delaware Park that there was only just over a foot of fence showing, an amount which could easily be cleared by the bison. Digging down that snow drift was one of the most strenuous tasks for the team.

As part of its normal winter operations, the zoo maintains indoor enclosures for all their animals, have heated rocks for certain enclosures and often clear pathways through snow for the animals.

While this storm was devastating, it truly showed the remarkable teamwork and commitment of these members to maintain a safe environment for the animals. 

— Madison Ruffo 


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