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Animal Absences, Explained

Snow Leopard Photo by Jamie Pham

The L.A. Zoo is home to more than 270 species, but sometimes you might not see your favorite on a trip to the Zoo. What causes animal absences, and what are the best tips for seeing the most animals during your visit? 

Animals can be out of public view for several reasons, and some of them may surprise you: 


We all know that Los Angeles is famous for its fantastic weather, but on occasion rain, heat, and cold can send some animals inside for comfort. For example, okapi love the heat, and giraffes, Speke’s gazelles, and gerenuks favor a nice, dry day. On days when the weather isn’t cooperating, some animals head for a more controlled climate, either indoors or to a nest box for warmth (sometimes with supplemental heat) or fans and mister hoses to cool down. 


Just like you, your favorite Zoo resident sometimes needs some TLC, including for preventative care. Just ask our chimps, who participate in their own heart health monitoring. Certain species also need time to care for each other, like when some animal parents engage in behind-the-scenes bonding with their newborns. “Offering a choice is best for new moms,” says Director of Animal Programs Beth Schaefer. “Allowing them to stay on their normal routine or stay inside gives the moms choice to maintain their optimal welfare.”


Work on a habitat can also be cause for an absence. Upgrades, repairs from wind or rain (like those that recently caused our Komodo dragon to be inside), and general maintenance and upkeep must all be done when animals are not present. Even work happening nearby an animal’s habitat may mean that animal is inside for its safety. 


Sometimes, an animal that has the option of indoor and outdoor space just wants to be inside. “Choice is a large component of animal welfare, and we endeavor to offer that to our animals,” Schaefer says. Animal agency and preference can play a role in where and when animals will be available to view. 

Special Events 

Our Animal Care team provides input on event planning to minimize impact on the animals, and our Research team monitors animals during events to assess possible impacts. Working together, they help determine if the animal you’re looking for may or may not be available for you to view if you’re at the Zoo for a special reason. 


Look closely if you think an animal is not in its habitat. It could simply be in the shade or behind a bush or a tree. You may get lucky and discover natural camouflage at work! 


Also, did you know some species at the Zoo live temporarily or permanently behind the scenes? Particularly during breeding and rearing seasons, some animals are very sensitive. For example, many species of birds need privacy and quiet, and our Avian Conservation Center provides the best environment for them.

The length of the animals’ absence can vary as well. Sometimes the friendly (or fierce) face you came to see is just away for a minute or two. It may be in a nest box and could reappear at any moment, so take your time and enjoy the discovery process. If a sighting is a high priority on your visit and you decide to move on, check back again before you leave the Zoo. Or, ask a nearby volunteer or docent; these friends of the Zoo may be able to provide insight about a return timeline and are full of information about the specific animals you love at the L.A. Zoo.