Pandas rejoice at the coming of winter: A new season at the Moscow Zoo

December 12, 2020
Parks and pedestrian areas

Animals at the Moscow Zoo are ready for winter. Brown bears are going into hibernation. They seldom come out and will soon be sound asleep. Some animals have already gone to sleep, for instance, jerboas, which spend winter in refrigerators, and raccoon dogs. However, most animals rejoice at the new season and are even fond of snow. Zebras and lions leave their warm enclosures while the pandas Zhui and Dindin are particularly active and playful in winter.

On the first day of calendar winter, we would like to tell you about the start of the new season at the zoo.

Following new rules

The Moscow Zoo’s indoor pavilions have been temporarily closed since 13 November due to the restrictions in place to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus infection. Visitors may walk outside and watch animals in open enclosures from 9 am to 5 pm. Tickets are available only online at

“We are glad that we have been allowed to keep the Moscow Zoo open for visitors. They may walk in the fresh air, observing all the rules for public places and maintaining a distance of 1.5 metres. There are fewer visitors than usual at this time, but we are very glad to see them. Unfortunately, they are not allowed to visit the indoor pavilions: the House of Primates, the House of Birds, the reptiles display and others. Under the circumstances, our scientific department will conduct research during this period. Our scientists want to identify typical animal behaviour without visitors and then compare them to animal activity in the presence of visitors. So, life at the zoo never stops,” said Moscow Zoo Director Svetlana Akulova.

Moscow Zoo Director Svetlana Akulova. Photo by Yulia Ivanko,

Lions and pandas during wintering

Naturally enough, northern animal species are happy about winter. Hares and squirrels have changed their colour, while Arctic and red foxes and wolves have already grown fluffy winter fur. Polar bears are fond of ice baths in winter.

The director said only five percent of all animals in the zoo go into hibernation: brown and black bears, jerboas, groundhogs, raccoons, chipmunks, hamsters and hedgehogs. Most animals can be seen in outdoor enclosures.

Many thermophilic animals are comfortable during Moscow’s winter. Even those that were born in warm countries — zebras, sable antelopes, cranes, ostriches and wild cats — go outside for a walk in winter. Their enclosures consist of two parts: a cold-proof inside area and an outdoor space. They can choose the more comfortable place to stay.

Other southern animals, for instance, lions and emus, like walking in the snow. All of them spend nights in warm enclosures but want to go out in the morning. African white-tailed gnus are comfortable in the snow and like making trails.

The pandas Zhui and Dindin are particularly fond of snow although they arrived at the zoo only last year. They usually live in bamboo forests in China’s alpine areas. Zhui was fascinated by the first snow. In the meantime, Dindin had fun destroying a snowman that was made for her by keepers.

“Pandas, our favourites, are especially active now. They like the Moscow winter very much. Many people are fond of watching them not only in the zoo but also on our website These videos are getting the most views. When snow falls, almost all animals rejoice in it like kids,” said Ms Akulova.

In dens and fridges

This year, it has taken bears longer to go into hibernation than usual owing to the warm autumn. Now they seldom come out to visitors. They will go into hibernation very soon. In summer, they are fed fruit, fish and honey to get their bodies ready for a long winter.

Although bears are heavy sleepers, zoologists ask visitors to show respect and not to be too noisy near their sleeping places. Meanwhile, keepers watch them sleep through a special small window and via round-the-clock video streaming. Sometimes animals wake up themselves during a thaw but go quickly back to sleep. Raccoon- dogs may also wake up in winter just to check whether spring has arrived.

“Raccoon dogs hibernate in an amusing way. They sleep close together and go out to check on the weather one by one. One of them wakes up and goes out to see whether the sun is shining and if there is grass and food. If nothing is available, it returns and goes back to sleep,” Ms Akulova said.

Keepers help animals to prepare for hibernation. They put twigs and hay in their enclosures so that animals can make beds. For instance, zoo employees bring to the bears’ enclosures everything necessary to make their lairs comfortable. They also give twigs to raccoons, which use them for insulating their dens.

Groundhogs are also setting up their shelters on their own. Females usually go into hibernation sooner than males — in October because the latter have to put on more fat for hibernation.

This year, jerboas fell asleep sooner than usual: cold temperatures arrived in November. They spend winter in refrigerators and are deliberately put into hibernation to slow down their metabolism. For the next four or five months, they will sleep in a foam-covered wooden box. Keepers also watch their behaviour. They take them out from time to time to check their weight. If an animal has lost a lot of weight, it is given fatty seeds and gradually put back into hibernation.

Nests for the young ones

There are animals in the zoo that breed in winter. These include crown cranes and Humboldt penguins, which recently moved to an indoor enclosure and are spending more and more time in their shelters. Soon zoo employees will give them twigs, and they will start building nests for their younglings. On the contrary, gentoo penguins moved to an outdoor enclosure because they are an Antarctic species and must be kept in cold temperatures. However, their breeding season is in summer.

Sables also have a peculiar feature. They were meticulously studied by Russian biologist Peter Manteifel in the 1920s. He discovered that although they breed in summer, their embryo stalls in winter and stops developing. This condition is called a latent period. Females give birth to young only by spring or summer.

Anthropoid apes, capuchin monkeys and mandrills breed regardless of season. They do not follow a definite pattern.

Two domestic yaks gave birth to calves on the eve of winter, in November. Now they will spend several months with their mums in individual enclosures. The calves will nurse for the first half year and will then switch to a usual diet.

Pools for walruses and seals

The construction of a new modern pavilion for fin-footed mammals will be completed in 2021. It will accommodate seals, eared seals, fur seals and walruses in six large pools and recreate an environment similar to their natural habitat.

The reconstruction of the pedestrian bridge linking the old and the new parts of the zoo will also be completed. One more entrance to the zoo will open several metres from the Barrikadnaya metro station for the convenience of visitors.


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