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Category — Animals

Hippo Keeper’s Blog: Hippos Bibi & Henry Get Nose to Nose Behind the Scenes

By now you’ve surely heard the exciting news! The Cincinnati Zoo’s two newest residents are settling into their brand new home, Hippo Cove. When the exhibit opens later this month, you will all have an opportunity to meet and fall in love with both of them, but until then, here is some behind-the-scenes info to tide you over!

Bibi enjoying the pool.

Bibi enjoying the pool.

 It has been 20 years since the Cincinnati Zoo’s collection has included hippopotamuses, so we knew we’d need to brush up on hippo husbandry before the arrival of our pair. Two Africa department keepers, Jenna Wingate and myself, were fortunate enough to travel to the St. Louis Zoo to meet Bibi, a 17-year-old female hippo, and the keepers that have taken care of her for years. The St. Louis team allowed us to shadow them during a typical day so that we could learn all about Bibi and the ins and outs of her care. My first impression of Bibi was how very laid back she seemed. In her St. Louis bloat, Bibi was the largest hippo and therefore the dominant female by default, but I wouldn’t have guessed it based on her calm demeanor. We left with a wealth of knowledge and a mounting level of excitement about bringing hippos to Cincinnati!

bibi-131 A couple of weeks later, it was time for Bibi’s journey to Cincinnati. Shipping hippos can be a tricky business involving extra-large travel crates, flat-bed trailers, trucks, cranes and lots of communication and teamwork. Fortunately, Bibi’s shipment went very smoothly. Though she seemed a little nervous at first (sitting in her travel crate and refusing to come out), she quickly settled into her new home and grew comfortable with her new keepers. Exactly one week later, it was Henry’s turn to make the big move! Henry will be turning 35 years old this August and comes to Cincinnati from the Dickerson Park Zoo. As with Bibi’s shipment, everything went smoothly with Henry, and two of his keepers from Dickerson Park Zoo even spent the rest of that day and the following day with us in Cincinnati to share all of their knowledge with our team. Henry seemed even less phased by the change of location and happily went about his hippo business as soon as he figured out how to navigate the stairs into his indoor pool. We now had 2 new hippos, a brand new exhibit and holding facilities, and all of the inside info on hippo husbandry and care. We were ready and excited to start taking care of these amazing animals.

Henry in the pool.

Henry in the pool.

 Hippos have always been my favorite animal, ever since I was a kid. Getting to work with them now is a dream come true! They are larger than life, weighing in at ~4,000lbs (Henry) and ~3,000lbs (Bibi), and their personalities are even bigger! Bibi is smart and interactive and will approach keepers several times throughout the day with her mouth agape, begging for food or asking us to spray her with the hose. Henry’s personality has been tougher to assess, as he seems completely “twitterpated” by his soon-to-be mate, Bibi. From the moment he laid eyes on her, Henry has been intent on trying to find a path to Bibi. Henry, a proven breeder, has already sired offspring in the past, but he has been without a mate for 20 years! Clearly he cannot wait to spend some quality time with Miss Bibi.    

  Both hippos seem very excited about their outdoor exhibit as well. With a 70,000 gallon pool, a waterfall and a beautiful sandy beach, who wouldn’t be?! During her first time in the water, Bibi dazzled zoo employees with her aquatic acrobatics, spinning and swirling and even doing some somersaults in the deep end!

Bibi spinning and swirling in the water.

Bibi spinning and swirling in the water.

  When it was Henry’s turn to try out the exhibit, it didn’t take long for him to give his seal of approval, which he expressed by dung showering the waterfall. If you are unfamiliar with the term, dung showering is when a hippo defecates and flaps their tail at the same time to spread the dung around and mark their territory. It is shocking, impressive, horrifying and hilarious all at once. But it was a welcomed sign to keepers that Henry was making himself at home.

Dung shower!

Dung shower!

  Since the two hippos are brand new to Cincinnati and each other, the animal care staff has decided to take the introductions slowly, allowing each hippo to become familiar with the holding spaces and the exhibit before they are put together. Overnight, the hippos are given “howdy” access to each other via the indoor pool. On several occasions, keepers have observed Henry and Bibi vocalizing to each other and touching noses through the shift door. The hippos even nap right up against the shift door with their bodies lined up and touching through the gaps. Fortunately, all indications suggest that the two are both compatible and eager to be with each other, a good sign since we have a breeding recommendation for the pair! 

  Official introductions will be happening in the coming weeks, and then keepers will begin putting Henry and Bibi on exhibit together so that they are comfortable in their new space before their grand debut to the public on July 21st. The Cincinnati Zoo family cannot wait for you all to meet handsome Henry and beautiful Bibi this summer! We’ll see you soon in Hippo Cove!

July 6, 2016   14 Comments

Happy World Giraffe Day!

Guest blogger: Kristina Meek, Wild Encounters

Have you fed a giraffe lately?

A little girl, maybe five years old, stretches her hand toward me, bits of dollar bills poking from between her small, clenched fingers. Her pink shirt bears the outline of a stubby giraffe with prominent eyes and smiling mouth. Among his spots are a couple drops of blue, evidence of the blueberry ice cream the child must have recently enjoyed. “Would you like to feed a giraffe?” I say. She nods her head slowly, seeming afraid to smile. “She’s been so excited to do this,” chimes the woman behind her, likely her grandmother. “Giraffes are her favorite.”

Working at the Cincinnati Zoo’s Giraffe Ridge, guiding guests in hand-feeding the world’s tallest land mammal, rewards the soul and the funny bone daily. I’m privileged to accept the girl’s crumpled three dollars and direct her to the railing of the deck, where another Interpreter of Wildlife and Fun shows her how to hold out lettuce leaves for eager young Jambo. She moves with caution as she gets closer and realizes the animal’s head is larger than her whole kindergartener body. But she accepts the lettuce and stretches her arm toward the netting, where 15-foot Jambo happily slurps it away. A smile takes over the girl’s face. Her eyes dance, she brings her hands together in front of her ice cream-spattered shirt and bounces up and down on her heels. Her grandmother, so taken by the sight, has forgotten to take a photo. “Do it again!” shouts Grandma. For the second piece of lettuce (feeders get two per experience) Grandma is ready to make her Facebook friends’ day… and remember this moment for life.

My tongue is bigger than yours! (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

My tongue is bigger than yours! (Photo: Jeff McCurry)

It’s World Giraffe Day and the perfect time to appreciate these spotted giants around the world and here at the Cincinnati Zoo, where we’re privileged to share four of them with the visiting public. Ours are Maasai Giraffes, the largest of nine subspecies, native to Kenya and Tanzania.

To say a giraffe is an incredible animal doesn’t convey their majesty, their beauty, and their personalities, things you can’t fully appreciate until you’re face-to-face with one. In the short time that I’ve been part of the Wild Encounters team, helping with feedings, I personally haven’t ceased to wonder at them each day, and evidence of their impact streams across the deck in the form of Zoo guests, ranging from nervous to ecstatic. As amazing as the giraffes are to behold in the Zoo, anyone who has seen them in the wild can attest to another whole level of awe. Fortunately, the Zoo provides a close-to-home encounter.

Everyone loves to feed the giraffes! (Photo: DJJAM)

Everyone loves to feed the giraffes! (Photo: DJJAM)

Giraffe feeding is the great leveler. It’s not just five-year-old girls who light up. It’s babies in their parents arms, boisterous school groups, tribes of teen-aged friends, middle-aged couples, elderly folks, people of every color and culture, from Mennonites to Chinese tourists, English-speaking or not, and individuals with every kind of disability.

I saw a blind woman blown away by the feeling of the giraffe’s breath on her arm and the wet tongue brushing her hand. I had a retirement-aged woman walk up and say, “I don’t have a child with me or anything. I’m just by myself, but this is on my bucket list.” I saw a teen boy who was clearly over hanging out with his parents all day, grin from ear to ear but then give his second piece of lettuce to his dad saying, “You HAVE try this.” There was one little boy who just couldn’t. Stop. Laughing. The whole time… Others cry. I’ll admit to having cried along with one or two of them.

In 1889, the Cincinnati Zoo became the first zoo in the Western Hemisphere to welcome a baby giraffe, a tradition that has taken breaks but continues today. Tessa and Kimbaumbau (Kimba), designated by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) as a match for breeding, arrived in 2010. Cece and Jambo joined them in 2013. Regulars and staff members have their favorites. Kimba, the male, is breathtaking in his sheer size, 16.5 feet with eyes the size of racquetballs. Tessa, the oldest, is graceful and sometimes shy to approach the deck. Cece and Jambo have been getting a lot of attention since we announced that each is carrying a baby, and no one can miss Jambo’s “messy” hair atop her ossicones.

Kimba says hello!

Kimba says hello!

According to the Wild Nature Institute, only about 80,000 giraffes remain in the wild. As a keystone species, their well-being affects the well-being of whole habitats. Over the past few years, the Zoo has supported the work of the Wild Nature Institute to conduct photographic mark-recapture surveys of Maasai giraffe in the fragmented Tarangire Ecosystem of northern Tanzania. A portion of the proceeds from our Gentle Giants: Private Giraffe Encounter program supports this effort.

Maasai giraffes in the wild (Photo: Dr. Derek Lee, Wild Nature Institute)

Maasai giraffes in the wild (Photo: Dr. Derek Lee, Wild Nature Institute)

I invite you to join us for giraffe feeding every day throughout the summer, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. We hope that by meeting giraffes up close, at our Zoo or others, you’ll find the inspiration to take action.

Today my favorite visitor is Robbie. He’s about three years old. He and his big sis have just finished feeding, and now their parents just want them to pose for a moment with Cece behind them. Mom holds up her phone ready to snap, saying “Look at Mommy!” Sister faces the camera, posed and smiling, but Robbie is turned 180 degrees away, stock still and agog at the giraffe’s face on the other side of the netting. “Robbie! Robbie, turn around!” Mom pleads, glancing anxiously at the long line of people waiting. I’m happy to give her a couple of minutes to capture the shot. “Robbie, look at Mommy!” Big sister tugs at Robbie’s arm, encouraging him to turn. He’s mesmerized. Finally, Mom smiles and slips her phone into her purse. She’s just happy to see him happy. She takes his hand and guides him away to his next adventure.

June 21, 2016   No Comments

There’s Something Abuzz at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden

Guest blogger: Cole Soldo, Sustainability Intern

The Cincinnati Zoo is a haven for innovative techniques in conservation, education and research, advocating for and performing wildlife conservation in all corners of the globe. Whether it is strategically breeding red pandas to develop a self-sustaining captive population or facilitating the rescue, rehabilitation and release of sloths in Costa Rica, we support conservation efforts in areas where wildlife needs our help. We do tremendous and impactful conservation work throughout the world, yet there’s one area where we could have even greater impact. Home.

One night on the way home from work, I listened to Zoo Director, Thane Maynard, on his 90-Second Naturalist radio program. He was discussing the environmental impacts of logging in Malaysia. Maynard was struck with grief and helplessness as he realized that, despite wanting to help improve the environmental situation in that part of the world, it simply wasn’t feasible for him to do so.

So he and Zoo staff got to thinking…how could they help improve the world right here in Cincinnati, Ohio? What could they do to address a local issue and have an initiative readily accessible for residents in the community?

The answer lay in pollinators, more specifically, creating refuges for local pollinators such as bees, butterflies, bats, hummingbirds and an assortment of other insects that feed on flower nectar and carry pollen from plant to plant.

Honeybees (Photo: JP Goguen)

Honeybees (Photo: JP Goguen)

Why are pollinators important? Well, pollinators such as honeybees contribute to one out of every three bites of food we take! Pollination leads to the production of fruits that we eat and seeds that will create more plants. They are extremely important, but often they are overlooked and underappreciated. And on top of that, they’re also in trouble.

You may or may not be familiar with the woes plaguing our pollinators, but the truth is that, at least for bees all around the world, their populations are in critical decline. The rapid and detrimental decline of bee populations was first documented in 2006, and has come to be known as Colony Collapse Disorder, (CCD). CCD has been identified as a result of a possible combination of parasites, bacterial diseases, viruses, pesticide use, shrinking habitat and nutritional deficits. Recent years have seen losses of an average of 33% of colonies.

Sounds disheartening, complex and out of control, right? Well, the answer to that is…sort of. But the last three reasons mentioned for CCD? We can do something about those, and, in fact, the Zoo has been working hard to combat these issues and give our winged friends some help.

Within the last month, Zoo staff, folks from the Hamilton County Soil and Water Conservation District and eager volunteers helped establish 13 honey bee hives at the Zoo’s EcOhio Farm to help restore native pollinator populations. They also planted pollinator gardens to restore habitat and proper nutrients for the colonies.

Zoo staff build bee hive boxes

Zoo staff build bee hive boxes

ecohio farm logoThese hives are managed by Pollen Nation, a group of Zoo staff who have dedicated themselves to learning the way of the honeybee, so to speak. They are a collection of dedicated individuals who recognize the rapid loss of these valuable species and are moving ahead to do what they can to help preserve them.pollen nation logo

Pollen Nation education table

Pollen Nation education table

You can come learn about the value and importance of these incredible creatures during your next visit to the Zoo. Come to the Pollination Station near the World of the Insect. Here you can learn about the process of pollination, participate in discussions about which animals are considered pollinators and understand why pollination is important to both the ecosystem and to our food production! On Thursdays, stick around for our Bee Chats at 2 pm. Presenters discuss the beehives we have on Zoo grounds and talk about different conservation methods such as building mason bee houses and what to plant in your own pollinator gardens. Also, stop by the Go Green Garden for fun pollination-themed activities and games as well as participation in the nationwide citizen-science initiative, BeeSpotter!bee spotter

Get ready, Cincinnati! Let’s #BringBackTheBees!

June 13, 2016   2 Comments