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Getting ready for winter’s wrath: For animals at Milwaukee County Zoo, it’s a whole different beast

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MILWAUKEE -- For animals in the wild, getting ready for winter is all about instinct. For animals at the Milwaukee County Zoo, it's a whole different beast.

Welcome to Dawn Fleuchaus' world at the Milwaukee County Zoo as workers prepare their animals for winter.

Boris the Alaskan Brown Bear

"This is Boris our Alaskan Brown Bear. Boris is about 20 years old and he is getting ready for hibernation," Fleuchaus said. "I just weighed him the other day and he was 998.8 pounds."

In the wild, brown bears can easily reach a weight of more than 1,000 pounds as they bulk up for winter.

"All the north American animals have strategies how they deal with winter," Fleuchaus said.

Boris the Alaskan Brown Bear

Most of those strategies include eating food and packing on the pounds in the fall.

"The elk are putting on winter weight. Our harbor seals are eating tons of food; 15 pounds of fish a day," Fleuchaus said.

Boris the Alaskan Brown Bear

When we get cold, we only have to put on a jacket. But for a North American brown bear, it's a little more complicated.

"He's got his thickest most insulated fur coat on right now," Fleuchaus said. "You can see some longer hairs and those act as guard hairs and they help protect from rain and snow. And there is an undercoat that is a lot denser that gives them more insulation."

For bears, the extra weight and fur is all they need to survive the winter.

"Their body is so designed and set for winter that they can shed the moisture and shed the snow and lay right in the elements," Fleuchaus said.

Dawn Fleuchaus

Other animals, such as the American Badger, need a little more help.

"We do have holding areas in the back where we have a nice insulated box that we pack with straw and insulate very well," Fleuchaus said.

The additional food and close monitoring of the animals' natural cycles is how the Milwaukee County Zoo prepares its animals for a successful and sleepy winter.

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