Jerboas hibernate in the fridge at the Moscow Zoo

December 3, 2020
Parks and pedestrian areas

Jerboas at the Moscow Zoo have gone into hibernation. This year, they fell asleep earlier than usual: low temperatures came in November, not December this year. The rodents will spend the next four or five months in a special fridge with a temperature of +2-4°C.

In the wild, jerboas also hibernate at different times depending on the air temperature and available food. If the animals have enough food, they stay awake even when it is cold. If there is a shortage of food, they prefer to fall asleep in their holes, so as not to waste their fat reserves accumulated over the summer. As a rule, jerboas go into hibernation when the temperature is about +4°C.

“Our zoologists make sure that the life cycles of the Moscow Zoo jerboas are the same as those of their wild counterparts. In the second half of summer, we recreate a natural change of season by gradually lowering the air temperature in their enclosure and adjusting their diet. The animals need to gain enough weight to be able to sleep through the winter without harm to their systems. Therefore, we offer them highly nutritious meals, for instance, a grain mixture with high sunflower seed content,” said Moscow Zoo General Director Svetlana Akulova.

Jerboas are sent to cold storage only when they reach an optimal weight. There are five jerboas living in the Moscow Zoo. Just before hibernation, each jerboa weighed about 400 grams; over the winter, they can lose up to a quarter of their weight. When the animals were ready to fall asleep, experts put them in separate wooden foam-padded boxes to protect them from vibrations and external noise. Then the boxes were placed in a special fridge.

Throughout the winter, the animals will be weighed once a week. Zoologists carefully take the rodents out of the refrigerator, inspect them, and weigh and check other vitals. In slumber, their temperature falls from 38 to 4 degrees Celsius, and their heartbeat slows from 300 beats per minute to five-six. However, zoologists can see during the check-ups that the jerboas are breathing and moving their paws. If an animal is doing well and losing weight gradually, it goes back to the refrigerator. If a jerboa loses weight too quickly, specialists wake it up and feed it.

Jerboas will come out of hibernation when their weight reaches the summer indices, some 300 grams. It will happen approximately in March. The waking up process lasts several hours. When the jerboas are fully awake, they quickly return to their previous life and move to their summer enclosure. They usually are full of energy and have a good appetite. In spring and early summer, they eat light foods such as carrots, apples and fresh grass.

Groundhogs have also fallen asleep at the Moscow Zoo as the weather became colder. They accumulated fat reserves and hid in their holes to sleep there for the next four or five months. Bears, raccoons, raccoon dogs and hedgehogs are also preparing for winter hibernation. The sun-loving animals have been moved to warm enclosures and will be brought back only in spring. Visitors are invited to watch the lives of zoo animals and birds online. There are also photos and videos featuring the training and feeding of zoo animals on the zoo’s social media.


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