- Associated Press - Saturday, March 7, 2015

ATTLEBORO, Mass. (AP) - If a polar bear lived at Capron Park Zoo, it would be in heaven.

Mounds of ice and snow fill the outdoor exhibits at the County Street zoo - conditions ideal for the Arctic animal.

Unfortunately, those conditions are the worst for viewing animals that are not polar bears and which do not like the polar conditions caused by an unprecedented string of snowstorms that have dumped more than 5 feet on the city in less than four weeks.

As a result, the zoo has been shut down for a month - the longest period in the 10 years Director Jean Benchimol has run the popular attraction.

In fact, it’s the longest of her career in zoo management.

Her previous longest shutdown happened at a zoo in Florida that was pummeled by two consecutive hurricanes, forcing a three-week closure.

The longest shutdown in Attleboro was for a few days after a freak October snowstorm in 2011, she said.

So now, without a polar bear, there’s very little to look at, besides ice and snow, she said.

Even if the animals come out of their safe and warm indoor quarters, most couldn’t be seen by viewers because of the mountains of snow.

“The snow is higher than a lot of the animals are,” a storm-weary Benchimol said. “People would be limited to (exhibits in) the buildings.”

And clearing the outdoor exhibits is an impossible task, she said.

Workers have dug narrow paths for the animals to stretch their legs in some of the exhibits, but that’s about the extent shoveling that’s possible.

Ideally, the snow would be removed, but a number of obstacles have prevented that, Benchimol said.

The first is the sheer volume of snow which would have to be shoveled out by hand because of numerous trees, rocks and play apparatus that would obstruct snow blowers.

Second, the zoo doesn’t have the manpower to do all that shoveling. And even if it did, there’s no place to put the snow, Benchimol said.

Most importantly, the doors humans use to get to many of the exhibits are frozen in place, preventing shoveling of any type, she said.

All efforts to free the doors from the vice-like grip of winter have failed.

Most animal doors can be opened, but few of them take advantage of opportunities to venture outside, where the temperature during the day has only gotten to 32 or above on four days this month.

Even if they do go out, Benchimol said, the excursion is limited.

“It’s too cold to let them out for any length of time,” she said.

Even lions are limited to 30 minutes.

The Amur leopard, which comes from a cold-weather clime, is the only animal that seems to enjoy the weather, and was seen eagerly eyeing a passerby in the less than balmy breezes.

So the zoo remains closed, but workers keep chipping away at removing what snow they can in preparation for reopening, whenever that becomes possible.

Two workers, Rob Verzone and Lino Ribeiro, spent all last week clearing roofs to prevent collapses that have become more and more frequent throughout the area.

The zoo had one of its own when the snow crushed an old greenhouse that was being used for storage, Benchimol said.

Walkways throughout the zoo remain snow covered and slick, creating hazards for humans, ensuring that the zoo will stay shut for a while, she said.

“For the very few people who would come, it’s not worth endangering them or the animals,” Benchimol said of the snowbound zoo.

And, while the zoo depends on admissions and gift shop sales for much of it revenue, February is usually a slow month, regardless of snowfall.

“The risks aren’t worth the small amount of revenue we’d be getting,” Benchimol said, adding the effort to get open is ongoing, nonetheless.

“We are trying our hardest to get open,” she said.

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