Prague Zoo's winter sleepers have woken up

Two hibernating species of mammals are leaving their burrows for a new year

Spring has sprung, according to Prague Zoo. Hibernating animals are showing themselves to the public. The marmots, who are related to groundhogs, popped out of their burrows on Friday and on Sunday there were joined by European ground squirrels, zoo director Miroslav Bobek announced on Facebook.

The zoo is also waking up, with longer hours as of March 1. The zoo will be open daily from 9 am to 5 pm in March and to 6 pm in April and May. It gets into full stride in the summer, open to 9 pm in June, July and August. Then the hours taper back in the fall and winter.

Marmots and ground squirrels are known as “true winter sleepers,” and snooze through the cold months. They fatten up during the autumn and then sleep underground with a lower than normal metabolism, body temperature and heart rate. Both animals are mammals and members of the Sciuridae family, which includes small and medium-size rodents such as squirrels and prairie dogs.

They wake when the temperatures rise, and then drink quite a lot of water and eat stored food until they are in good shape to face the world.

Other animals are also pepping up. The two baby elephants were out and about last week, with Maxmilián, the elder of the babies, splashing in puddles and being a bit rambunctious. The younger elephant, Rudolf, was still sticking close to his mother. The elephant families go out for walks around 1 pm usually. Maxmilián will turn 1 year old in April.

The zoo is also already seeing births of rare animals, with seven smooth otter pups arriving in January. It was the first birth of this breed in a zoo on the continent of Europe. Previously they only bred in Europe in the UK.

Prague Zoo was ranked the fourth-best in the world by users of the travel site TripAdvisor in July 2015, beaten only by zoos in San Diego, California; Puerto de la Cruz, Spain; and Singapore.

Prague Zoo had a particularly successful year in 2016, reaching 1.4 million visitors for the first time in one year. Aside from the two baby elephants born in 2016, other births last year included an aardvark, giraffe, a viper, a rare giant rat and a rare African openbill. The zoo saw a total of 1,191 juveniles in 223 species. The zoo also has been drawing crowds to see rare lions that it acquired at the end of 2015.

Prague Zoo opened in 1931. It currently covers 58 hectares with 50 hectares used for exhibits. It has over 4,700 animals from 681 species, including 144 species listed as threatened. The zoo has 12 pavilions and over 150 exhibits. It has been particularly active in the preservation of the Przewalski's horses, which are slowly being returned to the wild.

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