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Category — Animals

Keeper’s Tribute to a Turtle

Earlier this week, the zoo lost one of its iconic animals. Our large alligator snapping turtle housed at Manatee Springs, Capone, passed away Tuesday evening.


As his keepers, one of our favorite things to do was feed Capone with large crowds present. He would open that giant mouth and chomp his fish, quickly swallowing it whole. The collective gasp from the visitors could be heard from the keeper area and would always put a smile on my face. Capone was also a phenomenal teacher for our Zoo Academy students. We would let students offer his food, and the teenagers would nervously take the feeding pole after being told, “don’t drop the tongs”. Capone would come barreling toward the surface for his juicy herring. Sometimes the students would drop the fish (never the tongs), but eventually they would successfully give our massive turtle his dinner. It was such a boost of confidence for them, and Capone was infinitely patient.


I’ve found conflicting information about the longevity of alligator snapping turtles, but most often have read that they can live to be anywhere from 50-100 years old. The keepers always considered him to be the old man of Manatee Springs. His ancient, dinosaur-like look also made him a favorite with our guests. One of the most common questions we would be asked was “how old is he?”. We weren’t ever really certain how old Capone was, but zoo lore told that he was one of the oldest animals in the zoo. He came here in 1998 for the opening of Manatee Springs.


Capone always impressed visitors with his massive size. He weighed around 150-160 lbs., which is average for male snapping turtles. Some, however, can reach 200 lbs. This makes them the largest freshwater turtle in North America and one of the biggest freshwater turtles worldwide. Despite his size, he could really blend in which gave guests a huge surprise when they finally found him.

Everybody who worked around Capone came to really love him. What he may have lacked in the “cute and cuddly” department (unless you ask me because I thought he was adorable), he made up for in charisma. He often would beg from keepers as they were working around his tank. In previous years he had been fed through some of the holes in the exhibit rockwork. Even long after he was fed that way, he would peak his massive head through one of the holes hoping for a treat.

We will all miss Capone.


October 8, 2015   1 Comment

#GoodnightZoo – A Routine Night With Wild Animals

On June 12, 2015, the Zoo’s Twitter team accompanied Night Keeper Mike on his evening rounds and shared our animals’ bedtime routines with followers using hashtag #GoodnightZooIn case you missed it, here’s a recap of that night plus extra photos and content provided by Mike.  (See #GoodnightZoo article on WCPO)

Please note that all images were taken from a distance and from behind barriers. It is not safe to own wild animals as pets or to share space with them.

Mike Kroeger, aka “Night Keeper Mike,” has been at the Cincinnati Zoo since May of 1996. That’s 19 years! He’s worked in the Bird House, Rhino Reserve, and the Children’s Zoo before moving to Night Watch.

We met Night Keeper Mike at 4pm at the Animal Hospital. He starts his rounds there after speaking with the vet on duty. Tonight it happened to be Dr. Jenny Nollman. She lets Mike know of any special instructions for the night and then he’s on his way. Goodnight Dr. Nollman!


Night Keeper Mike & Dr. Jenny Nollman

First stop: Galápagos tortoise! Night Keeper Mike has no issues getting these turtles inside. They gladly followed his trail of veggies. Goodnight Galápagos tortoises!


Galápagos tortoises follow Night Keeper Mike’s trail of veggies inside.

Mike keeps up a fast pace around the Zoo in order to get everything done. We quickly walk over to Night Hunters to check on Prosperity and Gracious, the white lions. White lions are a rare color mutation of the African lion. They are not albino; they are leucistic, which means they lack dark pigmentation. Prosperity, the mother, is always brought inside first, followed by daughter Gracious. They are given their nighttime meals separately (as is the routine with all the cats, so the dominant one doesn’t eat all of the food) and then they’re brought back together for the night.


Prosperity’s dinner!

While feeding these two, Night Keeper Mike got a call on the radio that the  alarm in Night Hunters was going off. Off we went! He says each night is different from the next. This was a good example! Luckily, it was a false alarm and everything was okay.


Tiger Enrichment Notes

The manatees were next on his list. Night Keeper Mike takes us behind the scenes to get a view of the massive sea cows from above. As part of the Manatee Rescue & Rehabilitation Partnership (MRP), the Cincinnati Zoo is a second stage rehabilitation facility that provides a temporary home for manatees until they are ready for release back into the wild. Mike checked the environmental systems including pumps and ozone and they were functioning properly and the manatees were good to go. Goodnight manatees!


After checking on the manatees, Mike takes a look at the other animals in Manatee Springs to make sure that all is well. Goodnight snake!


Next was a trip to the Rhino Reserve. Black rhino Seyia and Indian rhino Manjula live there, as well as okapi, bongosGrevy’s zebras and yellow-backed duikers. Night Keeper Mike is especially fond of Seyia and usually gives her one or two grain biscuit treats!

Seyia's ready for snacks & playtime!

Seyia’s ready for snacks & playtime!

Indian rhino Manjula chomps on her dinner.

Indian rhino Manjula chomps on her dinner.

Yellow-backed duiker and her calf.

Yellow-backed duiker Lilly and her calf Stanley.

Zebra's Buster & Lainey  are ready for bed.

Zebra’s Buster & Lainey are ready for bed.



Bongo heading inside.

Beau the 3yr old bongo heads inside.

Bedtime for baby bongo calf Stevie!

Bedtime for baby bongo calf Sukari!

Wildlife Canyon, home to the only Sumatran rhino in the Western Hemisphere, Harapan, was next on the list. This stop included a variety of animals. Mike’s job is to bring them inside and make sure they have food for the night. Some animals like Harapan have access to their outdoor exhibit all night (weather dependent).

Sleepy hogs.

Sleepy pot-bellied pigs.

Przewalski's Horse

Przewalski’s Horse

Warty Pigs get a bedtime snack.

Visayan warty pigs get a bedtime snack.

Capybaras decided they didn't want to come in yet.

Capybaras decided they didn’t want to come in yet.

Harapan interacting with his enrichment before bedtime.

Harapan interacting with his enrichment before bedtime.

Time to check on the Andean bear (Chester), black bears (Mato & Yona) and polar bears (Little One & Berit). They also have access to their outdoor exhibits all night long!

Caught snoozing with his arm straight up!

Caught Chester snoozing with his arm straight up!

Polar bear!

Polar bear!


The American black bear waiting patiently for a bedtime snack.

Time to venture to Africa! Mike has to get all of the savannah animals to their indoor exhibits. Tonight Africa Keeper Dan was there to help. Together they corralled the kudu, ostrich, cranes and the rest of the hoofstock inside (the animals made them work for it).  Dr. Nollman noted to Mike that cheetah “Savanna” is experiencing indigestion. Mike makes a meatball and hides medicine to ease her stomach inside.

Night Keeper Mike prepares the cheetah's diet.

Night Keeper Mike prepares the cheetah’s diet.


Savanna the cheetah getting her meds.

Animals in Children’s Zoo were already in bed!

Three little pigs sleeping in their bed.

We head back over to Africa so Night Keeper Mike can talk to the Nocturnal Adventure kids about the lion cubs.

Night Keeper Mike talks to Nocturnal Adventure overnight kids about the lions.

Three tired cubs with their dad, John on the monitor.

Three tired cubs with their dad, John on the monitor.


#CZBGLionCubs woke up! Dad John is still sleepy.

Back to the nursery!

Goodnight nursery dog Blakely!

Goodnight nursery dog Blakely!

Goodnight wallabies!

Goodnight wallabies!

Night Keeper Mike heads back to Night Hunters to bring in the cougars (Joseph & Tecumseh), white tigers (Akere & Popsey), Malayan tigers (Taj & Who Dey), snow leopards (Renji & Nubo) and to check on the other cats.


Night Keeper Mike has the meat for the tigers!


Goodnight Pallas’ cat


Goodnight Josie (caracal)


Goodnight snow leopard Nubo


Goodnight Malayan tiger brothers Taj & Who Dey


Goodnight Malayan Tiger


Goodnight White tiger

We only spent four hours with Night Keeper Mike when we had to check out, but he still had a lot of work to do!


4 hours and 15,000 steps later and we were done for the night!

Another #GoodnightZoo is planned for late fall, so follow along on Twitter!

October 7, 2015   3 Comments

Saving Sloths in Costa Rica

Hanging with Moe – myself, Amanda, and Sam last year.

Hanging with Moe the sloth – myself, Amanda, and Sam last year.

“How hard can it be to track a sloth?” This was the question that I was teased with several times prior to my recent trip to Costa Rica.  My honest answer was “I don’t know, probably not that hard.” Guess what? Trying to find an animal designed to camouflage itself 50 feet off the ground in dense canopy is pretty darn hard. Surveying a population of brown-throated three-toed (Bradypus variegatus) and Hoffman’s two-toed (Choloepus hoffmanni) sloths is just one of the ways that I (Head Keeper for the Interpretive Collection) and Amanda Chambers (Team Leader for the same department) helped out our colleagues at The Sloth Institute Costa Rica (TSI). TSI was established in 2014 and is a branch of Kids Saving The Rainforest (KSTR). With high hopes of becoming more involved in conservation directly, our department formed a relationship with Sam Trull, Co-founder of TSI, last year. Since then, we have helped them purchase four radio-collars to track rehabilitated and wild sloths  with funds raised through our Moe’mentous Sloth Encounters, an experience at the Zoo that allows guests to meet Moe, our two-toed sloth (Choloepus didactylus). Part of TSI’s mission is to rehabilitate injured and orphaned sloths, release them back into the wild, and then collect data on the released and wild sloths in the area of the release. The other part is to educate the local community about how to peacefully coexist with native wildlife, particularly sloths!

Orphaned and hand-reared Two-toed sloths Bruno and Elvis snuggle between feedings. (Photo: Sarah Dapper)

Orphaned and hand-reared Two-toed sloths Bruno and Elvis snuggle between feedings. (Photo: Sarah Dapper)

So off to Costa Rica we went last month in search of sloths and ways we could help TSI move their mission forward. Amanda and I had never traveled to Costa Rica before and were so excited with the anticipation of seeing so many different species of animals that we’ve only seen in captivity. We were not disappointed! Costa Rica has the largest concentration of species anywhere in the world. It is truly a biodiversity hotspot! It also has reserved a full 25% of its land for wildlife. This is an impressive number. Costa Rica, as I’m sure you can imagine if you’ve never been, is unbelievably beautiful. It hosts 13 different micro-climates that include desert, cloud forest, and tropical rainforest. For all these reasons, in addition to their beautiful beaches, Costa Rica is a major tourist destination.

Wildlife need to cross roads to find food, mates, shelter. (Photo: Sarah Dapper)

Wildlife need to cross roads to find food, mates, shelter. (Photo: Sarah Dapper)

Horizontal rope bridges like this one help arboreal wildlife cross a road safely. (Photo: Sarah Dapper)

Horizontal rope bridges like this one help arboreal wildlife cross a road safely. (Photo: Sarah Dapper)

Now, we have a hugely diverse group of flora and fauna, lots of protection from the government, amazing scenery, and lots of people coming to see it. Here’s the issue – bisection of the habitats. To get eco-tourists into these remote areas so they can have an experience that connects them with nature, there have to be roads. There also has to be electric wires and every other form of development that comes with humans. This then causes animals to come into closer contact with humans. Sloths are particularly vulnerable to roads, electric wires, and domestic dogs. While we were at KSTR one day, a female three-toed sloth and her day old baby were brought into the clinic. The tree the mom had been in had been cut down by someone and she fell and broke her arm. The next day, she gave birth and was rushed to KSTR for help. Unfortunately, electrocutions, car strikes, and dog attacks are all too common. I’m happy to report that mama sloth had a successful surgery to repair her arm and is recovering well with baby by her side.

Mama post-surgery with baby, who was able to stay with her during the entire procedure and recovery. (Photo: Sam Trull)

Mama post-surgery with baby, who was able to stay with her during the entire procedure and recovery. (Photo: Sam Trull)

Release cage during construction. (Photo: Sarah Dapper)

Release cage during construction. (Photo: Sarah Dapper)

Currently, Sam is hand-rearing nine baby sloths, and two other juveniles have been moved into a pre-release cage in a maritime zone along the Pacific coast in Manuel Antonio. All of this makes for lots to do. TSI relies almost completely on volunteers. They help feed the sloths (2:00 AM feeds for even an adorable baby sloth wear you out), construct cages, track wild sloths at the release site, lead educational tours, and log tons of data. Amanda and I spent a morning surveying the release area for sloths. Hannah, one of the researchers, said she had logged 25 separate sloths the day before. We walked up and down hills for hours, craning our necks and looking through binoculars. We found three.

Can you find the wild three-toed sloth in this picture? (Photo: Sarah Dapper)

Can you find the wild three-toed sloth in this picture? (Photo: Sarah Dapper)

Our days were also spent constructing sloth litter boxes (sloths climb down from the canopy about once a week to deposit their waste at the bottom of the tree) for the release cage, recording data on a wild mom and baby two-toed sloth pair, going to the local farmers’ market to buy goat milk for the babies, and transporting a sick sloth to the vet clinic an hour away to get a digital x-ray. We learned a lot about what wild sloths are eating and we are hoping to plant some of those trees in the Discovery Forest exhibit here at the Zoo where Moe lives.

During our trip, the Zoo launched a successful Booster t-shirt campaign for the care and feeding of Moe with part of the proceeds going to TSI. Thank you to everyone who bought a shirt and supported captive and wild sloths! Our goal is to remain active in Costa Rica with sloth conservation. We feel that community engagement in the Manuel Antonio area as well as the larger Costa Rican community is key and it is where we hope to focus all of our future ideas and actions as a department. Our Zoo has taught us to dream big and pursue our own experiences with conservation. We could not have done this without the support of our Zoo leaders and our Interpretive Team.

If you are interested in meeting Moe, our two-toed sloth, and learning more about how to get involved in sloth conservation, be sure to schedule a Moe’mentous Sloth Encounter with us soon. Also, be sure to follow The Sloth Institute on Facebook for updates on the upcoming releases of their rehabilitated sloths!

October 6, 2015   No Comments