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THE CALIFORNIA FREEZE

Cold puts a spring in their pounce

Some animals at the L.A. Zoo enjoy the chilly weather, like that of their native habitats. Others take refuge under heat lamps.

January 17, 2007|Carla Hall | Times Staff Writer

Tom and Jerry, two snow leopard cubs, scampered across the smooth rocks of their Los Angeles Zoo exhibit, preparing to practice their ambush skills on each other. Tom -- or maybe Jerry -- peered down and leapt off the rock onto the back of the other cub. Jerry -- if it was Jerry -- shook him off and the two darted across their grounds, a flurry of black spots on white fur and fluffy tails.

The afternoon temperature on Tuesday felt as though it barely reached 50 degrees -- nippy by L.A. standards but delightful for a Nepalese mountainside, the indigenous habitat (along with China and India) of these endangered snow leopards.

Their playfulness was due in part to their youth, but yesterday's antics can also be attributed to the weather. Although the recent cold front brought disaster to many Southern California farmers, it's been a pleasure for some four-legged residents from frigid climes.

"It's perfect weather for them," said Michael Dee, the zoo's general curator, watching the two cubs and their mother roam the exhibit. "If it were summertime, they'd find themselves a nice cool spot and go to sleep."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday January 18, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 32 words Type of Material: Correction
Zoo animals: An article in Wednesday's California section about animals at the Los Angeles Zoo enjoying the recent chilly weather referred to koalas as koala bears. The animals are marsupials, not bears.

During an informal tour of the zoo Tuesday, another animal seemed to enjoy the cooler temperatures. One of the zoo's stocky gorals -- goats from the mountain slopes of China -- galloped across a hillside exhibit. Gorals, said Dee, "have longer guard hairs in the winter to keep them warm."

The zoo accommodates animals who want to come in from the cold, offering access to off-exhibit barns with heat. And like a restaurant with patio seating, they put up outdoor heat lamps in some exhibits. The koala bears, for example, got heat lamps affixed to the ceilings of their shady shelters.

A few animals are simply brought inside during cold weather. On Saturday, when the daytime temperature at the zoo did not reach above 40 degrees, the zoo took the gerenuks -- whippet-legged antelopes from Africa -- off-exhibit and confined them to their barn. (They were out again Tuesday.)

Other animals have year-round heated digs. Basking in an 80-degree enclosure was the zoo's Komodo dragon, Komo, who several years ago famously bit Phil Bronstein, the San Francisco Chronicle editor and then-husband of Sharon Stone, when the couple took a behind-the-scenes visit to the zoo.

According to Dee, the animals not from cold climates generally acclimate. "As long as you give them an opportunity to adapt to a cooler climate, they will," he said. The Aldabra giant tortoises -- from the Aldabra Islands in the Indian Ocean -- seem to have adapted just the way people might. On Tuesday afternoon, visitors at their exhibit could look through the opening of the tortoises' indoor enclosure to find all four of them snuggling shell to shell on the heated floor with a heat lamp overhead.

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carla.hall@latimes.com

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