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Category — Animals

African Savannah Line Up – Who’s Who?

It is easy to be distracted by our thirteen new (and adorable) babies in the Africa exhibit, but don’t forget to check out the awesome antelope and birds living in our savannah area! They are all interesting in their own way and below you can find more information and helpful hints on how to identify each one.

Lesser Kudu



Lesser Kudu are a grayish-blue colored antelope with large ears and white stripes going down their sides.   Females do not have horns and are a reddish color.  They are wonderful at blending in with their surroundings and prefer bushy scrubland areas where they stand really still to hide from predators when necessary. They are most active at night, making them nocturnal. They can run up to 60 miles per hour. Male Lesser Kudu are typically solitary, while females will live in small groups of 2 to 3 or with their calves.

Our kudu, Calvin and Hobbes, are often toward the back of the exhibit behind the foliage. Even though they spend parts of their day hiding, they are our most tractable hoofstock and will greet their keepers in hopes of getting yummy treats. Hobbes tends to be the braver and the first to approach his keepers, however he is a pickier eater and will sometimes spit out treats that he is offered. They have physical characteristics that help visitors tell them apart. Calvin is larger, weighing around 155 lbs, with longer eyes stripes and an ear notch in the middle of his left ear between his face and the tip of his ear. Hobbes weighs around 135 lbs, has shorter eye stripes and has an ear notch at the very tip of his left ear.



Conservation Status: Near Threatened

Habitat: Dry, flat, and densely thicketed areas, woodlands

Diet: Twigs, leaves, fruits, grasses

Captive: up to 23 yrs
Wild: 7-8 yrs

Male: 202 – 238 lb
Female: 123 – 154 lb


Ndizi and Hofu

Ndizi and Hofu

Impala are one of the more familiar antelope to most zoo visitors. The males have large horns and beautiful, fawn colored bodies. Females do not grow horns. They are incredible jumpers and can leap about ten feet high and thirty feet in distance in a single bound. In the wild they are typically found in the savannah with short grasses and a water source nearby. Impala adjust their diets according to what is available and therefore are both grazers and browsers.

Our impala came to us with very shy personalities and are slowly, but surely, warming up to us. We have two males, as you can tell by their horns, named Hofu and Ndizi. They can be  difficult to tell apart from far away, but Hofu is a little bit smaller than Ndizi, and Ndizi has black on the inside border of his ears. Out of all of our antelope in the exhibit, the impala are the most likely to be near the moat when the pelicans allow.


Conservation Status: Least threatened

Habitat: Found in savannas, areas of short grass with medium, or dense stands of bush and a permanent water supply

Diet: Grasses, flowers, fruit and foliage of bushes and trees, seed pods

Lifespan: 12-15 years

Weight: 100 – 154 lbs

Thompson’s Gazelle

Jared and Farley

Jared and Farley



Thompson’s gazelle are the most abundant species of gazelle on the African savannah.  Both males and females possess horns, unlike the kudu and impala.  They live in small herds, but are flexible socially and will merge with other herds, especially females.  They have scent glands below their eyes and if you have time to watch them for a while you may see them mark the bushes or browse in the exhibit with a black secretion from those glands.  Males will use this scent to mark their territory. If necessary, Thompson’s gazelle will travel ten miles or more to find water.

We have three male Thompson’s gazelle (aka Tommys). Both males and females of this species have horns. They are the smallest antelope in our exhibit and a lot of the time visitors assume that they are babies. All of our males are young, but they are full grown. They may get a little more muscular and their horns may continue to grow, but overall they will not get much larger. Jared and Farley are new to us this summer. Jared, our largest gazelle, has a crooked and broken horn. It is most likely the result of a fight with another gazelle when he was younger and his horn grew in at an odd angle with the tip missing. Farley is the smallest, with a noticeably smaller tail and horns that form a “Y” or “V”.  Jasiri came to us with the two impala and has been out on exhibit since last year.  His horns are very close together like an “11”. Despite the fact that he is one of the smallest, he tends to be one of the biggest trouble makers.


Conservation Status: Near threatened

Habitat: Savannah

Diet: Grass, herbs, leaves and seeds

Lifespan: 10 to 15 years

Weight: 33 to 77 lbs

**You may see all of our antelope species sparring (hitting their heads and horns together) a lot this season. They are still figuring out who is boss, sometimes having fun, and most often doing what they would naturally do during the spring-which is try to win the rights to breed with females and protect their territory.



Pam and Rose

You can tell the difference between male and female ostrich by the color of their feathers. Males will actually help incubate the eggs throughout the night, so they are black in color to camouflage from predators in the dark. Females are lighter in color and more of grey color to camouflage while incubating the eggs during the day. Ostrich lay the largest eggs in the world and can lay up to eleven of them at a time. They are very heavy birds and, therefore,  cannot fly. Instead, they get around using a powerful forward kick (they cannot kick backwards) and can run up to 40 mph on just two toes!

If you check out the color of our two ostrich you will notice that they are not black, because we have two females-Pam and Rose.  They are a favorite among visitors and keepers.  Pam is a little bit smaller than Rose weighing in at 237 lbs. Rose is a very large female weighing in at 307 lbs! One of our keepers, Dan, is currently training our ostriches to stand still for a blood draw. Rose has already successfully gone through a blood draw procedure, and Pam is participating in the procedure as well, especially because it means she gets her favorite treat-duck food (a nutritionally complete diet made for waterfowl)! It is very helpful for keepers to have animals trained to participate in their own health care.


Conservation Status: Least concerned

Habitat: Savannah

Diet: Seeds, leaves, grasses, roots, insects, and sometimes even carrion

Lifespan: 40-50 years

Weight: 200-350 lbs

East African Crowned Cranes


Kahawia and Kijani

Crowned cranes are interesting looking birds. They have long, thin, golden feathers on top of their heads that give the illusion of wearing a crown.  They will typically live in pairs, but sometimes can be found in large flocks. A breeding pair will lay two to three eggs and then raise the family together for about a year, before they young go off on their own.  They have excellent vision and with their long necks and legs can spot predators from far away. Crowned cranes are the only cranes that can perch in trees, thanks to a very well developed hind toe!

Kahawia and Kijani, our two male cranes, are difficult to distinguish unless you can see their ankle bands. Kahawia’s is brown and Kijani’s is green. They will often approach keepers and take up a little bit too much of our personal space, especially during breeding season. One of their favorite things is when we toss them live crickets and mealworms. They spend a lot of their day looking through the grass for insects and other yummy things to eat. It is fun to see them lying down and getting comfy in the hay that we feed our antelope.


Conservation Status: At risk

Habitat: Wetlands and grasslands

Diet: Grasses, seeds, lizards, insects, and other small animals

Lifespan: Up to 25 years

Weight: 6.5- 9 lbs

Pink-backed Pelicans

Skipper and Gilligan

Skipper and Gilligan

Pink-backed Pelicans can hold up to two gallons of water in their throat pouch at once! They have a hook at the end of their beak to help them grip fish that they scoop up out of the water. They are the smallest of all pelican species and have pink on their backs and rumps that can only be seen when their wings are out.  They breed all year round and can be found nesting in small groups or large colonies of between 20 and 500 pairs!

The Cincinnati Zoo has two males that live in our African Savannah exhibit, where you can typically find them defending their territory along the water’s edge.  Our boys are named Skipper and Gilligan. Skipper has a yellow bracelet on his right leg to help us identify him.  Their favorite fish food is herring.  Even though they typically eat fish, insects, and small amphibians, they have occasionally been spotted catching birds that make the unfortunate decision to sit along the moat!  Next time you visit, check out their fun, cartoonish-looking eyes and enjoy their graceful movements through the water that make them appear to be ice skating.


Conservation Status: Least Concern

Habitat: Slow-moving, fresh water, wetlands

Diet: Fish, small amphibians, insects

Life Span: 30 years

Weight: 12-16 pounds

Lappet-Faced Vultures





Lappet-faced vultures are the largest vulture found in Africa and have the ability to strip the carcass of a small antelope to the bone within 20 minutes!  They have brown feathers and bald heads that can turn red. Just like other vultures they typically eat carrion (dead animals), but uniquely, they sometimes also hunt small mammals and birds!  Smaller scavengers depend on Lappet-faced vultures to break through the tough hides of bigger carcasses. Lappet-faced vultures will even eat the skin and bone of a carcass, which is not typical for other raptors.  They will even stand up to a jackal if it tries to steal their carcass!

We currently have two Lappet-faced vultures, Ogra and Ishtar. Ogra is a female and you can tell her apart from Ishtar because she is bigger and has very few white feathers on her back.  Naturally (being female and all), Ogra is the boss out of our three vultures and chooses to steal the others food rather than eating from the perfectly good plate laid down for her.  Ishtar is male, smaller, and his back is speckled with white feathers. You will often see them with their wings stretched out soaking up the sun.


Conservation Status: Vulnerable

Habitat: Savannah, desert

Diet: Carrion, small mammals and birds

Life Span: Up to 50 years

Weight: 9-19 pounds

Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture



Ruppell’s vultures are able to soar for over 6 hours at high altitudes thanks to their 7.5 to 8.5 foot wingspan.  They can fly over 3 miles in six minutes and will fly as far as 90 miles from their nest in search of food. They have a ring of feathers that goes around the base of their necks and small, white fluffy feathers covering their heads.   The rest of their body is covered in mottled brown and white feathers, with white fluffy feathers on his legs.  Pairs will mate for life and will join large flocks of up to 1,000 breeding pairs.  The females collect sticks and grasses and the males will help build the nests, as well as incubate and feed the chicks.

Ishtar, Bubba & Ogra

Ishtar, Bubba & Ogra

Bubba is our Ruppell’s vulture and my personal favorite bird of the bunch.  He is very inquisitive and loves to get into trouble. As a highly social species, Bubba enjoys the company of Ogra and Ishtar very much, but the love is not necessarily reciprocated.  He tags along wherever they go and entertains himself by playing with branches and browse that he finds in the yard.  If you do not see him hanging out with Ogra and Ishtar, chances are you can find him on the island in the moat. He spent most of his summer last year perched up on the log found on the island, but he now prefers to be wherever his new buddies are.

**Tragically vulture populations are declining quickly due to habitat loss, hunting for trade, as well as the carcasses that they feed on are being poisoned by poachers and farmers. Poachers do not want to be tracked down by rangers after they have killed a large mammal and vultures are a good indicator of where the carcasses can be found, so by poisoning the dead carcass, fewer vultures will come and they have a better chance of getting away. Farmers will sometimes poison large predators such as painted dogs and lions, because they do not want them to kill their livestock, and this is killing vultures by the thousands.


Conservation Status: Endangered

Habitat: Savannah

Diet: Carrion

Life Span: 40 to 50 years

Weight: 15- 20 pounds


May 28, 2015   5 Comments

Dog Log #6 – Tribute to Brahma


Beautiful Brahma

It is with a heavy heart that I write this first part of my blog. Brahma’s sudden and unexpected passing has saddened all of the Africa keepers. He was a very special dog that achieved great things in the short amount of time we were given with him. Brahma’s grumpy old man demeanor (or that’s what it seemed like to me) was balanced out by his exceptional skills as a father and provider. The care he gave Imara and his offspring was amazing to watch and rare for alpha male dogs in the States. During this difficult time, I just personally wanted to thank all of you for the positive thoughts and the kind words that have been expressed to us. The other Africa keepers and I truly appreciate the support.

Brahma and Imara

Brahma and Imara


Brahma guides the pups

Brahma guides the pups

In spite of the short journey we had with Brahma, we still have a long way to go with the 10 beautiful young ones he and Imara created. The future is a bit uncertain at this point. We will manage the pack for the most part the same. Imara has taken this all in stride. The first couple of days after the loss of Brahma, I would catch her looking for him. I think she realizes what has happened, but that she still has a job to do and guiding her puppies into adulthood is her number one priority. Luckily for us, Imara is young and resilient. At about 35 lbs each, the pups are becoming a handful, but so far she is doing a great job. She is definitely still keeping them in line which you will often see on exhibit. Imara is not afraid to teach them a lesson, which is important since she is solo now.

2015-04-08 Imara Pups

Imara leads on

We would not bring in another male at this time. The Species Survival Plan (SSP) for African painted dogs meets this fall and will decide which dogs go (or stay) where. For now, we will continue to enjoy Imara and the pups as they get bigger and bigger. I am secretly hoping one of the boys has been gifted with Brahma’s personality. So come on out and enjoy Brahma’s legacy and watch them change right before our eyes.


May 25, 2015   10 Comments

Celebrating 40 Years of Graduates from the Zoo Academy

If you follow the Zoo blog, you’ve likely read posts written by some of current Zoo Academy students and are somewhat familiar with the program. This year, we are celebrating a milestone as the 40th class of Zoo Academy graduates prepares to walk across the Cintas Center stage and receive their diplomas on May 24.

The Cincinnati Zoo Academy has been a part of the public school system in Cincinnati since 1975. In 1995, the program underwent a substantial change from a strictly vocational program with an emphasis on natural resources and wildlife management to a four year college preparatory program where the students earn vocational degrees by working with zookeepers for two hours a day. During the 2008 – 2009 school year, we became a Tech Prep program with articulation agreements with UC Blue Ash and Cincinnati State. Students spend their ninth and tenth grade years at Hughes High School. During their eleventh and twelfth grade years, home base for the Zoo Academy is located on the first floor of the Education Center on Zoo grounds. The students spend several hours a day working alongside keepers, educators and other staff in labs throughout the Zoo.

Soon to graduate, Zoo Academy student Dominick Stowers (right) works with the Africa keepers and an ostrich.

Soon to graduate, Zoo Academy student Dominick Stowers (right) works with the Africa keepers and an ostrich.

Soon to graduate, Monneka Johnson socializes Bonnie, a screaming hairy armadillo, during her Education lab. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

Soon to graduate, Monneka Johnson socializes Bonnie, a screaming hairy armadillo, during her Education lab. (Photo: Shasta Bray)

This year’s graduates follow in the footsteps of an esteemed group of alumni. Many graduates have gone on to establish careers in environmental or zoological fields and some have actually been hired on as staff here at the Zoo, including Rickey Kinley, who has worked at the Zoo for 22 years and is currently a keeper in the aviculture department. Here Rickey shares his story in his own words:

“I started my life as an underprivileged kid. We were very poor.  I can remember being fascinated by nature and animals as far back as when I was three years old watching a ladybug on my window sill. At about the third grade, I had the epiphany that books held the information about the animals that I was so interested in. I became a bookworm, but only with books about animals. This curiosity developed further on to my teenage years when a freshman year science teacher mentioned to me about a high school called the Zoo School. As a teenager, this school seemed too good to be true. I applied, was accepted, and started school at the beginning of my junior year.

It was quite amazing to see on a daily basis all of the Cincinnati Zoo All-stars:  Cathryn Hilker (founder of Cat Ambassador Program), Mike Dulaney (current Curator of Mammals), Milan Busching (former insect keeper), and of course, Thane Maynard (current Zoo Director). These were people that I had regularly seen and idolized on the TV show “Zoo Zoo Zoo.”  Every single day I felt like I needed to pinch myself to make sure that it was a real high school.

Like every teenager, I was never quite sure what, when, or where life would take me or what decisions I should be making. The Zoo School gave me focus, direction, and mentoring. My very first lab rotation was in Wildlife Canyon with folks like Randy Pairan (current keeper) who taught me about the babirusa named Oscar that was more like a dog than a pig. During the Cat House lab, I was allowed to ride in the vet van next to an anesthetized lion on the way to the vet hospital for a root canal.

Rickey Kinley as a Zoo Academy student assisting with a procedure on a lion.

Rickey Kinley as a Zoo Academy student assisting with a procedure on a lion.

In the Bird House, Casey Nastold (former keeper) taught me how to hand-feed a variety of parrots, including baby macaws, eclectus parrots, African grey parrots, cockatoos, and the list goes on. Way back in 1992, the Bird House used to remove the eggshells from each egg before we smashed them for diets. I mentioned to Casey one day how in one of my books I read that many bird breeders smash the eggs with the shell on to provide grit and calcium for the birds. Casey decided that it made sense, the change was made and that is how we do our eggs still to this day. Looking back it still amazes me that she, in her managerial position, listened to the idea of a teenager.  It was extraordinary that she judged the concept on the merit of the idea and not from whose mouth it came.

Today, Rickey works in aviculture with birds, including the rhinoceros hornbill.

Today, Rickey works in aviculture with birds, including the rhinoceros hornbill.

I met Mary Abbott (current keeper) during my rotation in the Children’s Zoo.  In this department lived a turkey vulture named Greta that only liked Mary. Actually, she only liked women.  Any woman could pick this bird up like a baby, but men were never treated so kindly. Even though Greta was partial to women in general, I could tell that this vulture was a great judge of character because Mary was one of the nicest people I met as a student.

I want to help others understand how great of an impact that a program like this can have on a person.  Two things seemed impossible to me as a youngster with few opportunities:  1) to one day become a zookeeper and 2) to own my own business.  I have now been at the Zoo for 22 years and I have been a business owner for 13 years.”

Rickey shares his knowledge as a bird keeper with participants in the Zoo's Spring Break Camp.

Rickey shares his knowledge as a bird keeper with participants in the Zoo’s Spring Break Camp.

Learn more about the Zoo Academy and hear inspiring stories from other graduates here.


May 22, 2015   1 Comment