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Vik Dewan has spent countless hours over the past 16 years with more than 1,900 animals who live behind the Philadelphia Zoo gates year round as its CEO.
The iconic 42-acre park in West Philly is bustling with visitors on summer days when school is out. That’s also when many animals are awake, or at least sunbathing, especially those who thrive in tropical climates.
It’s because all the animals have different ambient temperature preferences. For example, giraffes are likely indoors when it’s colder than 50 degrees outside.
But for Dewan, the outgoing CEO of the Philly Zoo, he prefers the colder days when he can see the tigers — native to communities where forests are blanketed in snow — shine in their habitat.
Wiz, an Amur Tiger, in his habitat at the Philadelphia Zoo. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)
“I love that first snow. Our zookeepers will build our tigers a snowman and they will pounce on it,” he said. “To see our Siberian [Amur River Valley] tigers come out into the snow and play. They are a blaze of orange and black against the white snow. It’s just unbelievable. It just takes your breath away.”
That’s in part because Amur tigers — the largest living cat — are an endangered species; there are an estimated 400 tigers left in Russia.