Winter Adaptations

Brrr! It’s cold outside! Sometimes, people worry about the Red River Zoo Animals. There is no need to fret, many of the animals have natural adaptations which help them stay healthy and warm in the winter. An adaptation is a change that makes a plant or animal able to live better in a particular place or situation. There are many ways that animals instinctively prepare for a chilly winter.

Animals that adapt well to Fargo’s climate are Pallas’ Cats, because Fargo’s climate resembles their natural climate. They like it cold and can withstand arid and cold climates with temperatures that reach 60 degrees below zero. Pallas’ cats have the longest hair of all wild cats. The hair on their bellies and tail is twice the length of the hair on the top side of their bodies. This helps and adds extra insulation when lying on frozen ground and snow. Hair covers their entire body, even ears, protecting them from frost bite.

Bactrian Camels are incredible animals that are known to adapt and survive in many different kinds of harsh environments. Natively they can be found in Northern Asia, specifically in the Gobi Desert of Mongolia. Much like Fargo, the Gobi Desert has hot summers and freezing winters. When winter is near they grow a thick shaggy coat to protect them from the extreme cold. They have an additional set of eyelashes that protect their eyes from blowing sand and snow in the desert. Did you know that camels have special noses? Extra capillaries (special blood vessels) allow their nostrils to heat air as they inhale. This prevents the air from freezing inside their lungs.

Wolves have thick fur coats to keep them warm.

Mammals, like the deer and wolves, have coats that get thicker. They also gain extra weight and store fat to keep them warm and healthy throughout the cold months.  Animal’s bodies are naturally able to prepare them for the long winter.

The Red River Zoo is the perfect place to explore in the winter. The Zoo is home to over 80 different species of cold climate animals that would naturally live in areas that resemble and feel like Fargo, North Dakota. It is interesting to learn about all the different animal species and how their bodies naturally prepare for the colder weather.

The Zoo is open 10 am to 5 pm every Saturday and Sunday. Make sure you check for more information!

Come see what’s new at YOUR Zoo!

Species Survival Plans at the Red River Zoo


The Red River Zoo is a great place for people of all ages to go and learn about animals. What a lot of people do not realize, is how the Red River Zoo contributes to conservation both locally and globally. Did you know that Chinese Red Pandas are in danger of becoming extinct? There are only 10,000 left in the world. This number is rapidly declining due to habitat loss and poaching.

The Red River Zoo contributes to wildlife conservation to help save endangered species. Programs that specialize in captive breeding called Species Survival Plans, (SSP’S) help endangered species like the Chinese Red Pandas from becoming extinct. The Red River Zoo’s breeding program for the Chinese Red Pandas has been very successful. More than ¼ of the Chinese Red Pandas in U.S. Zoos were born at our Zoo!

Maintenance, animal care, and breeding programs, are very expensive. The Red River Zoo is 100% non-profit and doesn’t receive any state or federal funding. That means the zoo relies solely on revenue from admission, memberships, and donations. By donating to the Red River Zoo, you help the zoo continue to be a leader in conservation and education. You can help support breeding programs and help conserve the Chinese Red Panda population as well as many other animals by donating on Giving Hearts Day! Giving Hearts Day is this Thursday, please go to and donate to YOUR Red River Zoo!

For more information on Species Survival Plans please visit our website at

Red Pandas at the Red River Zoo

It’s not all about the Groundhogs!

Most people know that today is Groundhog’s Day, but did you know it’s also Hedgehog day? How much do you really know about hedgehogs?

There are 15 different species of Hedgehogs in Europe, Asia and Africa. They are named for the way they forage for food, darting in the hedges of garden bushes as they let out a small grunt.

Hedgehogs eat insects, worms, frogs, snakes and other garden pests. They rely heavily on their sense of smell and hearing because they have terrible vision. Normally, they are nocturnal. They sleep during the day and are active at night. When they sleep, they curl up into a small ball as their spikes act as a defense mechanism to scare predators away.

If they live in areas that are cold, they are known to hibernate until spring. If their environments are warm, they practice the habit of aestivation- hunkering down and sleeping out the long and hot season.

Hedgehogs are born in litters that consist of one to 11 hedgehogs. They stay with their mothers for a few weeks and then are on their own for the rest of their lives. Spartacus, the Red River Zoo’s education Hedgehog, is a favored outreach animal.

Happy Hedgehog Day Spartacus!

Creature Feature: Gray Fox

What do I look like?

I am a mammal and have hair all over my body. I have pointed ears and a long pointed nose. I have a peppered grey coat with red-orange fur on my sides and chest. This is why sometimes people confuse me for a Red Fox. I have a long bushy tail with a black stripe. I’m not really small, but I am definitely not big. I am three feet long and weigh less than 15 pounds.

What do I eat?

Many people think I am a carnivore, but I am actually an omnivore. A large part of my diet is meat, but I also like to eat plants. I eat small animals like rabbits, voles, and mice, as well as fruits and vegetables including apples, corn, and berries.

Where do I live?

My family members can be found as far north as Canada and as far south as Venezuela and Columbia. My home is called my den. I have many different habitats all in wooded and bushy areas. I make my dens in hollow trees, caves, and rock structures.

How big is my family?

After being pregnant for less than two months, I will give birth to a litter with up to seven pups. They will drink my milk until they are about three months old and then I will teach them how to hunt. After they are old enough and have learned how to hunt, they will go off on their own.

Did you know…?

  • They Gray Fox is the only member of the dog family that can climb trees. They climb by grabbing the trunk with their forepaws and scrambling up with their long claws on their hind feet. This is why their dens can be found 30 feet high up in a tree!
  • Foxes have few predators because of their great ability to escape. Pups are vulnerable to large birds of prey, but a Gray Fox’s main predator is the Coyote.
  • Gray Foxes help farmers because they eat rodents that would destroy their crops.
  • Gray Foxes communicate with each other by using a variety of calls that indicate danger or location.

The Gray Fox at the Red River Zoo

  • The Red River Zoo is the home of one Gray Fox that is favored by many.
  • Zoo guests can check out her exhibit located next to the North American River Otter exhibit.
  • Her den was built in 2011.

Meet Dr. Tom!

Doctor Tom Colville has his dream job. He is the attending veterinarian at the Red River Zoo. “I do my best to keep our animals healthy. That includes preventive procedures like administering vaccinations, examining animals that are ill or injured, treating the animals the best we can with what’s available to us, and keeping records on what we do medically so we can learn from past events,” says Dr. Tom, as the staff calls him.

Dr. Tom has always loved working with all kinds of animals. He started his veterinary career working in private practices in Louisiana and Virginia. While practicing in Virginia, he volunteered at the National Zoo.  “It was great fun for me. I got to work with a variety of animals at the zoo. And I would always welcome different species of animals in my practice, not just dogs and cats.” He dreamed of someday having a job like Marlin Perkins’ from Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. Marlin and his assistant would go around the world and work with exotic animals in exotic places. Since Dr. Tom couldn’t do that, working at the Red River Zoo has become the next best thing. Animals from around the world have come to him.

After working in private practice for five years, he and his wife, Dr. Joann Colville, moved to North Dakota and started the Veterinary Technology program at North Dakota State University (NDSU). As a veterinarian, solving the mystery of what was wrong with an animal and teaching owners how to care for their pets were two of his favorite things. Teaching at the University was a way to mesh solving mysteries and teaching into one profession. Since it was a clinical program, he was able to remain hands-on with the animals. He worked at NDSU for more than 30 years before retiring in early 2011.

Dr. Tom got involved with the Zoo while he was at NDSU. The Veterinary Technology program established a close professional relationship with the Zoo through veterinary technologist Amy Ellwein, who was a charter member of the zoo, and a fellow teacher in the program. Dr. Tom helped with many different Zoo medical procedures, like neutering the wolves, as a way to give his students real-life zoo animal experience. After he retired from NDSU he continued his relationship with the Zoo on an as-needed basis. During an accreditation visit, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) thought it would be advisable for the Zoo to have a staff veterinarian. Dr. Tom had been retired for a few months when he accepted the position as the Red River Zoo attending veterinarian under one condition; he would do it as a volunteer.

“I have the coolest job at the zoo because I get to work with all the animals. Keepers get to work with certain groups of animals. I get to work with all the animals at the zoo.  That’s my bliss,” says Dr. Tom. He strives to create a relationship with the animals, so when it comes time for a medical procedure, they feel more comfortable with him around and not frightened of a stranger.

Another important part of his job is working with the Zookeepers in training the animals. Training is important for animal enrichment. It stimulates the animals’ minds to help keep them happy and healthy. It is also important when it comes to medical procedures. Through training, a large animal, for example a camel, is taught to position itself correctly so its vaccinations can be administered with little or no stress to the animal and a safe environment for the personnel involved in the procedure.

Dr. Tom encourages young people interested in veterinary medicine and zoology to get experience anyway they can. Job shadow, intern, volunteer, and do whatever it takes to get involved. For younger people, Dr. Tom thinks very highly of the Red River Zoo’s camps and Junior Zookeeper program. “I think our Junior Zookeeper programs and our camps are great for kids to try things out,” says Dr. Tom. He believes children who are involved in zoo camps will have a bigger appreciation for Zoos and conservation, and nature in general.



What is Animal Enrichment?

Do monkeys like to read phonebooks? Do wolves normally hunt for ice cubes? Many guests ask, “What is that ‘junk’ in the exhibits?”  That’s not junk, that is animal enrichment! Animal enrichment comes in many different forms, shapes and sizes.

Animal enrichment is a process Zoo Keepers use to ensure the animals are happy and healthy. This involves stimulating and exercising their minds as well as their muscles. This can include-prey location, hunting, problem solving, exercising or playing- which are all important activities.

You may see boxes or structures in different exhibits. Some might be large and others will be small. Many of these containers have treats for the animals inside. They not only have to exercise their bodies to get the treats inside, but they also have to give their minds a workout.

In the South American exhibit for example, you might see different puzzles with obstacles made out of upcycled materials that a lot of guests might consider “junk or trash.” The White-Faced Sakis do not like to read phonebooks, but they do like to flip through the pages and search for treats.  Gray Wolves do not typically search for ice cube treats, but they do like to find ways to melt it faster so they can eat the frozen goodies inside. They are a special treat on a warm day.

Enrichment can be very complex and involve in-depth problem solving skills. Other forms involve simple things like adding a log, or a rock in their exhibit so there is always something new in their environment. It is important to make changes to the exhibits so animals do not see the same thing, or walk the same path every day. Even changing the look of their exhibit can add visual enrichment. Animal enrichment is also meshed in with training.

Target training is a form of animal enrichment. All Red River Zoo animals are given the choice to participate. During training, an animal is encouraged to touch the pointer with their nose. After they execute the touch, a whistle is blown and they receive a treat. This is a way to communicate body positioning. After animals have mastered that step, Zoo Keepers can build upon the training for more complex behaviors.  For example, if a camel was going to be given a vaccination, we would use this training to have them back up and position correctly to get the injection.

This type of animal enrichment is very important and is used often with many different Red River Zoo animals. Not only is it a way to exercise their minds and bodies, but enrichment is fun!

Animal Enrichment is essential for happy and healthy animals. Accredited Zoos and Aquariums like the Red River Zoo strive to keep all our animals healthy and have them participate in animal enrichment. When you visit the different exhibits at the Red River Zoo, see if you can point out a form of animal enrichment. Did something in the exhibits change? Are the animals working on a “special project”?  So next time you see that “junk” see if you can find what the animals are working on and how it keeps them healthy.

Volunteering for more then 15 years

Is your New’s Years resolution to get more involved in your community? The Red River Zoo is the place for you! This week’s blog post is about a very dedicated Zoo volunteer.

Wendy Trottier has been volunteering at the Red River Zoo since it opened, over fifteen years ago! Through the years, she has worked in almost all areas of the Zoo including, animal-care, diet preparation, education as a docent, and guest services.

Wendy, an animal lover and a true conservation enthusiast, loved the idea of a zoo in her community .As soon as the volunteer program was established, she was one of the first to sign up. On her first day of volunteering, she worked in the goat exhibit. “I got to work with the kids and the kids…my children called me the goat lady,” Wendy said with a chuckle.

“My true passion was the Junior Zoo Keeper program,” said Wendy. Wendy served for almost nine years as the coordinator of what was first called the Critter Club and then turned into the Junior. Zookeeper program. Wendy loved this program because she was eager to mix her passion for animals and wildlife with her love of influencing children. Wendy thought the program was important because kids not only could learn about animals and conservation, but it also taught children to learn respect for people and animals. She believed the program encouraged leadership skills and confidence.

While working with the Junior. Zoo Keeper program, Wendy helped the children plan and organize a conservation carnival. This taught the children to plan and to teach others about conservation. They made posters that read, “Give a hoot, don’t pollute” and designed games that taught others to recycle. Another initiative she created with the Junior Zoo Keepers was to create “Show and Tails.” The Junior Zoo Keepers would read a story about the animals in the Zoo to guests.

Wendy worked nights and volunteered at the Zoo during the day until she suffered some health problems in 2008. At this same time she resigned from the Junior Zoo Keeper program .Wendy still remembers all of her Junior Zoo keepers and is always happy to see them in the community. Despite having retired, Wendy now volunteers at special events and helps with the outreach animals. Wendy has grown with the Zoo and is looking forward to being a part of the Zoo’s future..

Without dedicated and supportive volunteers like Wendy, the Red River Zoo could not operate. Last year alone, more than 6,000 volunteer hours were donated. There are many different areas around the Zoo that could use volunteer help including animal diet preparation, maintenance, landscaping, education, acting as a docent, events planning and staffing, and many others. Whether it is an individual or a service group that can give one afternoon or commit to longer projects like a special committee, we have a place for you. For more information contact Debbie Dudley at


Creature Feature: Six-Banded Armadillo

Six-Banded Armadillos are mammals. They are known for their pointed and flattened head. Large protective plates arranged in a distinctive pattern run down their head and back. Armadillos have 6-7 movable bands on their back and very developed claws them dig in the dirt.
They are omnivores. The majority of their diet, more than 90 percent, comes from eating plants. They love to eat different fruits and leaves, but also eat carrion (meat from deceased animals), vertebrates (animals with a spinal columns), and bugs like ants and termites.
Many people think they have seen an armadillo like Rollo the Red River Zoo Armadillo in Texas or in other southern states. What they are actually encountering are relatives. Six-banded armadillos are only found in the grasslands and savannahs of South America. Six –banded armadillos can be found east of the Andes Mountains from the Amazon in Brazil to Central Argentina and Uruguay.
They are mature enough to breed when they reach nine months old. After 60-64 days of being pregnant, a female can give birth to one to three babies. At first they are very small. In only one month they become four times their birth weight. They are born with their eyes closed which open in about 22 days after they are born. When they do not have young to care for, armadillos are solitary animals.

Did you know…
• Armadillos have a great sense of smell.
• Armadillos are really good at swimming. Fat is stored under their skin and they can swallow a large amount of air, and because of this, they can stay afloat. They have been known to hold their breath for more than five minutes!
• If there are a group of armadillos together, the group is called a “Fez.”
• Six-banded armadillos are diurnal unlike other species of armadillos. This means they are active during the day and like to sleep at night.
• Six-banded armadillos live on the land, but when threatened, they find shelter in their burros or curl up to protect their soft undersides.
• Six-banded armadillos give off a special odor. They have special scent glands located in the backs of their tails.
• They are great at digging. They use their front claws and push the dirt underneath their bodies, and they use their hind claws to push the dirt behind them.

Six-Banded Armadillos at the Red River Zoo
• The Red River Zoo is the home of Rolo the six-banded armadillo.
• His habitat is located in the South American Exhibit in the entrance building. He lives with two White-Faced Sakis and a sloth.
• Rolo’s favorite food is the avocado.

Come check out Rolo and all the other animals at the Red River Zoo! The Zoo is open 10 am to 5 pm every Saturday and Sunday this winter!

Come see what’s new at your Zoo!


Deer at the Red River Zoo

With the Thanksgiving feast now in the past, it is time to look forward to the holiday season! One great holiday story explains how Santa travels the entire globe. He delivers presents to every child by a magical slay powered by strong and enchanted reindeer. The Red River Zoo may not have reindeer, but White-tailed Deer and Mule Deer and be found roaming in our prairie exhibit.  Why Santa picked reindeer, we’re not sure. Here are some great facts about the deer found at your Zoo.

White-tailed Deer:

White-tailed Deer can be found in southern Canada and most of the continental United States. They are mammals that grow to be up to 86 inches tall and can weigh more than 300 pounds. Now that it is winter, their coats are gray-white and males have shed their antlers.

White-tailed Deer live in wooded areas and are crepuscular creatures. This means they are active at twilight, right as the sun is rising and setting. Bucks (male deer) may live in groups of 3 or 4. If a doe (female deer) does not have fawns, she will live a solitary lifestyle, meaning she will live by herself. It is common for does to live in families with their fawns (babies).

Does will give live birth of one to three fawns after six months of gestation. The fawns will have white spots all over their coats which act as a natural camouflage and help them hide from predators.

When a deer feels they are in danger, they will stomp around and perform grunting, wheezing, and bleating noises to alert others that danger is near. Deer are excellent runners. They can reach up to 35 miles per hour while running.  A Doe will “flag” her white tail so her fawns know how to follow her while fleeing from danger. Bucks will use their antlers as weapons to fight off predators.  Predators of the White-tailed Deer are humans, wolves, and mountain lions.

Mule Deer:

Mule Deer can be found throughout western North America. The Red River Zoo is also home to one female Mule Deer. They are named after their large, independently moving “mule-like” ears that are three-fourths the length of their heads! Their foreheads are a distinct black and their faces are light gray. They have a brownish-gray coat with a white patch on their rump. Their white tails have a black tip.

The antlers of Mule Deer look a bit differently than White-tailed Deer.  Mule Deer bucks have antlers that have main beams that stretch outward and upward. They fork once, and then fork again. They will have an average of 8 to 10 total points.  This species of deer often do not include brow tines on their antlers (the first division of their antlers from their heads).

Unlike Mule Deer, White-tailed Deer have multiple antler tines. They stretch outward and forward from their bases.  Their brow tines are almost always prominent.


We are unsure why Santa decided to use magical reindeer instead of magical Mule or White-tailed Deer, maybe we will never know. Santa Claus will be making a guest appearance at the Red River Zoo for Jaws, Paws and Lunch with Santa Claus this Saturday, December 6th and the following Saturday, December 13th. Tickets include Lunch from Noodles and Company, professional Santa Magic Photographs and lots of holiday fun! Tickets are on sale now, but they are selling fast! If you would like to purchase tickets to this magical event call 701.277.9240 or go to  This Holiday event is sponsored by Sanford Children’s Hospital, Noodles and Company and Santa Magic.

Come see what’s new at your Zoo!


Creature Feature: Sichuan Takin

Some people think they look like a cross between a moose and a wildebeest, others think they look like a combination of a bear and a bison but, that is a Takin! (The name rhymes with rockin’) Takin are closely related to sheep and goats and are considered a goat antelope. They have a thick golden coat that covers their large body. Takin can be over four feet tall and weigh more than 700 pounds. They have long 20 inch horns with thick and curve around their head.  They have four short legs with two-toed hooves.

Takin are herbivores. They get all their energy from eating plants. Bamboo, grass, leaves and buds are some of their favorites.

There are four different kinds of Takin. Sichuan Takin, can only be found in the Western forested regions and bamboo groves of China and bordering mountainous regions. Sometimes they share their habitat with the giant panda. Takin are great climbers with strong legs that help them live in the mountains with an elevation of 6,400 feet! They are very agile even with their large size, they leap from rock to rock on rough slopes.  Takin migrate to higher elevations in the summer and come back to lower regions in the winter.

Sichuan Takin live in a large herd that sometimes includes more than 200 Takin! Older males like to live in much smaller groups or by themselves. Their mating season is in July and August. Females will give birth to one calf seven or eight months later.

Did you know…?

  • Female Takin usually weight around 500 pounds and the males can weigh up to 800 pounds.
  •  Are they sick, why are they coughing? They have few predators due to their large size, but when they do sense danger they let out a loud cough to warn others in their herd.
  • Takin have special adaptations to help them live in cold temperatures. They have a large sinus cavity that warms the cold air they breathe in. Their skin secretes oil to protect them from the damp fog that is common in their environment.
  • Takin have inspired many different stories in history. The beast in the classic Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast is based on the Takin. The legend of Jason and the Golden Fleece may also have been inspired by the Sichuan Takin’s golden fur coat.
  • Considered a national treasure in China, Takin have the highest level of legal protection. However, they are still endangered because of over-hunting and habitat destruction.

Sichuan Takin at the Red River Zoo

  • Two female and one male Sichuan Takin live at the Red River Zoo. Their exhibit is located along Takin Ridge behind the carousel pavilion.
  • The Red River Zoo’s Sichuan Takin are a part of Species Survival Plan (SSP).