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Category — Animal Sciences

Binturong, Bearcats and Bite Sized Snacks

During the course of my day, I have the privilege of being around Binturongs. As a former University of Cincinnati student, and a lifelong resident of Cincinnati, I am also very familiar with the Bearcat mascot. Furthermore, being a snack food fan, I am also well aware of the satisfaction of a good bag of popcorn. So, you probably understand some of this, my experience with animals and mascots, but are a bit confused about what the topic of snack foods has to do with me working at a Zoo.

Lucy the bearcat (with trainer Eddie Annal peaking around)

Lucy the bearcat (with trainer Eddie Annal peaking around)

First, a bit of information on Binturongs for you; Binturongs (Arctictis binturong), are also known as Bearcats. They are found in the forests of Southeast Asia where they easily climb trees, using their prehensile tails for balance and to hold onto branches, as they search for the small animals and fruit they eat. When they are not moving around, which is about half of the day, these viverrids prefer to curl up over a branch or fork in a tree to rest and relax. While active at night, they don’t have a set pattern of activity and can be found foraging for food during the day too. Binturongs communicate with each other by leaving scent markings. These olfactory signals (scents/smells) are great, since these “messages” last for days and even weeks. The messages can say that this is their territory, a good keep out sign, or be similar to a posting on one of the dating services we see on the web; SBw/WFB seeking SBw/WMB (Single black and white haired female Binturong seeking Single black and white haired male Binturong!)

Mike and Alice

Mike Dulaney and Alice in the 1980s

A quick note about the mascot, before we talk snacks. The University of Cincinnati, “Bearcat” originated in 1914 while folks were cheering during a football game. UC was playing the Kentucky “Wildcats” and we had a fullback named Leonard Baehr. The cheerleaders encouraged the crowd to repeat, “They may be Wildcats, but we have a ‘Baehr-cat’ on our side.” So after many years the Bearcat became the official mascot of the school. In 1985, Mike Dulaney, Curator of Mammals for the Cincinnati Zoo (CZBG) began taking “Alice” our Bearcat to UC games, for the fans to enjoy. Today, Alice’s successor “Lucy” can be seen walking along the sidelines at football and basketball games. [Read more →]

March 25, 2013   4 Comments

Adventures with Aardvarks!

My introduction to Aardvarks was on Saturday mornings, when “Aardvark” chased a red ant named “Charlie”, always unsuccessful in catching his meal, in the cartoon “The Aardvark and the Ant”.  I did like the Aardvark, although I must admit I rooted for the ant!

Later, I found out that Aardvarks aren’t blue and don’t wear shirts and shorts.  They do eat ants and beetles, but the majority of the food they eat comes in the form of termites.  They use their long and sharp claws on their front feet to dig into the hard ground and open termite mounds.  A long, thin tongue is used to pick up the termites from the exposed tunnels.  To make the process of eating thousands of termites more efficient the Aardvarks don’t chew their food (a lot like my bulldogs at home), and use the heavily muscled walls of their stomach to crush anything that they eat.

Padmae in the Children's Zoo Nursery

Aardvarks are solitary animals and spend most of their time out of their burrows at night.  The burrows and the piles of dirt they excavate are important in providing dens and habitats for a large number of other animal and plant species.  When they leave their burrows, Aardvarks will travel up to three miles in search of food, usually taking a path that zigzags through their home range.  Aardvarks have scent glands and males are attracted to females in estrus when the female emits a particular scent.  Females will give birth to a single offspring (sometimes twins are produced) after a seven month pregnancy and the male doesn’t help raise the young.  The youngsters are born in the dens and will have their eyes open at birth and also have fully developed claws.

Because of their nocturnal habits, and the fact that they like to lead a more secretive life than the blue Aardvark I watched on Saturday morning, Aardvarks usually do not interact with humans.  Unfortunately, farmers in Africa would prefer that these animals stay off of their property, since their burrows cause problems for livestock and the earthen dams that are built to contain water for the farms.  Populations in Africa are hard to determine, due to that secretive lifestyle, and there is some concern that these animals are being taken for the bush meat trade.

Aardvarks are somewhat difficult to breed in captivity.  Here at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden we have enjoyed a successful program involving the propagation of Aardvarks, over the last several decades.  “Padmae”, our young female that is now almost four years old was acquired for use as one of the animals that walk through the Park to meet our guests, up close and personal.  The keeper staff noticed that she became very active and there was a distinct odor that she was producing, in April of 2012.  The thought was that she was probably in estrus, meaning that she was probably ovulating and could produce a baby if she mated with a male.  Padmae was moved to the Veldt to visit with our breeding male Aardvark and remained there for several months.  The staff noted that the pair did breed during the last week of August and into September.  On December 18, 2012 an ultrasound was performed on her and it was confirmed that she is pregnant.  Based on the sonogram, below, and the recorded breeding dates, we are expecting a baby Aardvark between April 15 and May 15, 2013.

In preparation for the birth of a baby Aardvark, which has been described as looking like an alien creature, we are making modifications to the area in the Children’s Zoo Nursery.   A closed circuit surveillance system is being installed, so that volunteers can monitor Padmae as her due date approaches.  A whelping box is going into her stall soon, so that she has a secure place to give birth.  The Nursery Staff is getting ready too.  Since the females roam so much at night, sometimes they are too active in a captive situation for a newborn.  The staff will be ready to pull the baby, during the nighttime hours, hand feed the youngster, and place the infant back with the female when she would be caring for it in the den during the day.

Stay tuned!  We will keep you up to date on Padmae’s progress and our hope is that this first time mother will produce a healthy baby, this spring.  Stop by the Nursery, at the Children’s Zoo, to visit our expectant mother and see how well she is doing for yourself.

March 13, 2013   1 Comment

The Language of Training

Some animals I work with aren’t exactly stellar students.  If trainers could choose their pupils, they would be animals that have the ability and excel at problem solving.  Those that don’t fear change and will ask questions.  The animals with the ability to do that in their daily life are usually the hunters of the world.  Those that have to be able to look at a situation and decide what is the best tactic to and timing to “win.”  Most animals that are predators use problem solving skills everyday.  It’s the ability and desire to figure out the best scenario to get the food that makes predators much easier animals to train, generally speaking.

Giraffe exhibiting "flight" behavior.

What makes prey animals more difficult to train?  I would put the prey animals in flight and family categories. [Read more →]

March 8, 2013   2 Comments