We can’t wait for spring when we’ll introduce two lesser kudu, “Calvin” and “Hobbes,” to Cincinnati Zoo’s Africa exhibit!
Male lesser kudu can weigh more than 200 pounds and have a blue-grey color with thin white stripes, huge ears, and spiraled horns. Calvin and Hobbes are right on track with their weight, tipping the scales at 150 and 125 pounds. The females do not get as large and do not have horns. They also are typically more of a red-brown color. Kudu are most active at night and can camouflage well in dense thickets during the day. In the wild, their favorite things to eat are bush and tree leaves, shoot and twigs, fruits, and grasses. Here at the Cincinnati Zoo, they get a specialized highly nutritious grain formulated for herbivores and orchard/alfalfa grass.
Antelope like the lesser kudu, can be tricky animals to work with. Not because they have scary teeth and sharp claws, or because they have natural instincts to kill, but for the opposite reason. Everyone else wants to eat them! Imagine being the “potato chip” of the African Savannah, where you are a snack to all sorts of predators. Lesser kudu can run up to 60 miles per hour but still have to constantly be on the look out for common predators like leopards, hyenas, and painted dogs. Because of this, antelope are naturally (and understandably) easily frightened and sometimes move before they think. Luckily for us, Calvin and Hobbes were champs when it was their time to move into our brand new Africa hoofstock barn. Everything went well and they are settling in nicely. We have been working hard to make sure they feel comfortable in their new home and with their new caregivers, including me!
I enjoy all the animals I work with, but Calvin and Hobbes have a special place in my heart. Each morning we do an initial check on all of our animals to make sure everyone is doing alright. As I walk down the hallway greeting everyone good morning, the ostrich act like I am invisible, the impala stand on alert while they decide whether or not I am going to try and eat them, and the gazelle are too content and comfy on their beds to stand up. Once I reach the end of the barn I am finally greeted with some enthusiasm by Calvin and Hobbes. They immediately walk my way in hopes of getting a treat, and my morning is made. Their favorite treats are apple & oat horse treats, leaf eater biscuits, and fresh produce like romaine lettuce.
Over the past month we have been working with all of the hoofstock, trying to get them more comfortable with our presence. Each one has a different comfort level. I am thrilled with the progress happening with the kudu. Not only do they look to us for treats when we walk by, but they will now take food from me while I share their immediate space in the stalls with them and come over to check me out while I am minding my own business cleaning up after them.
Calvin and Hobbes are the largest species of hoofstock in our department. The larger the antelope the calmer they tend to be. From the beginning, they were interested in the keepers walking outside of their stalls, rather than nervous. I began standing outside of their stall and tossing treats to them a couple of times each day. After a few days they trusted me enough to come over to take food from my hand as long as I was on the other side of the wall. They eventually started walking toward me each time I was near in hopes of getting something yummy to eat. Today they walk right over to me, but if I shift my weight or scratch an itch on my face they walk away, or at least take a step back, to make sure the movement was not a threat to their safety. I am hoping that by spring I will have completely earned their trust.
Earning an animal’s trust is key to being successful in my job. Being able to walk in with an animal or to get them to approach you even with the safety of a barrier, makes you a better keeper. You can closely monitor their skin, hooves, teeth, paws, administer fly repellent or medication, etc. and make their life significantly less stressful. A keeper’s goal is to make each of our animal’s lives the best they can possibly be!
I hope that you enjoy Calvin and Hobbes as much as we do when they finally get to make their grand appearance in our beautiful, new Africa exhibit this spring!