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Category — Conservation

Eight Ways a Trip to the Zoo Can Stimulate Your Child’s Interest in Art

Co-written with Kristina Meek, Wild Encounters Interpreter

Sometimes we think of art and science as living at opposite ends of a spectrum. Maybe you imagine that your zoology-loving child will say, “Art is sooo boooring,” when actually, art has the power to enrich lives at any age. According to PBS, for example, exposing kids to art can positively impact their motor skills, decision making, language skills, and more. Here’s how your Zoo visit can bring art to life for your child.

  1. Notice color, and help your child do the same. A great place to start is in the Wings of the World bird house where you’ll find an array of different birds in brilliant colors. Point out how colorful plumage, such as the iconic tail feathers of a peacock, can help male birds attract mates. Ask your child to point out what colors she sees and which ones she likes best. Bring crayons and paper along so that your kids can capture what they see.

    Colorful peacock! (Photo: Deb Simon)

    Colorful peacock! (Photo: Deb Simon)

  2. Study the murals in the animal exhibits in Night Hunters. They were painted by artist John Agnew, who has also painted murals for Cincinnati Museum Center, Miami Whitewater Forest, and for zoos as far away as Moscow, Russia. As a youth, he became interested in dinosaurs and reptiles, and took part in the Dayton Museum of Natural History’s Junior Curator program. His penchant for animals and talent for a realistic style of painting combined into a successful career. Agnew helped found Masterworks for Nature, a group of 15 prominent Cincinnati area artists, who raise money for conservation through the sale of their artwork.

    Bobcat exhibit (Photo: Mike Dulaney)

    Bobcat exhibit (Photo: Mike Dulaney)

  3. Admire a reproduction of a 2013 painting by renowned wildlife artist John Ruthven entitled Martha, the Last Passenger Pigeon. The painting depicts Martha, the last known passenger pigeon, leading a flock. Martha lived at the Cincinnati Zoo, and when she passed away in 1914, the passenger pigeon went extinct. This painting was reproduced by Artworks on the side of a building in Downtown Cincinnati to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Martha’s passing in 2014.

    John Ruthven with his painting, Martha - the Last Passenger Pigeon (Photo: Ron Ellis)

    John Ruthven with his painting, Martha – the Last Passenger Pigeon (Photo: Ron Ellis)

  4. Go on a scavenger hunt to find the many animal sculptures displayed throughout the Zoo. Ask your child to imagine how they were made. What can they learn about the animal’s features from studying them? Here is a short list:
    • Hippos and lions in the Africa exhibit
    • Gorillas outside Gorilla World
    • Manatees and crocodiles outside Manatee Springs
    • Galapagos tortoise near the Reptile House
    • Tiger in Cat Canyon
    • Passenger pigeon at the Passenger Pigeon Memorial

      Hippo sculpture (Photo: Shasta Bray)

      Hippo sculpture (Photo: Shasta Bray)

  5. Check out the recycled materials art in the Go Green Garden. Every year or two, the Zoo works with a school or community group to create a new piece of art for display in this space. The current piece was created by the 2014-2015 Colerain High School Ceramics/3D class. Ask your child to notice what types of recycled materials were used. What other materials could they imagine using to create their own recycled art?

    Recycled art created by Colerain High School students (Photo: Shasta Bray)

    Recycled art created by Colerain High School students (Photo: Shasta Bray)

  6. Turn your own Zoo photos into art. While you’re visiting, take lots of photos. (Why wouldn’t you?) Play with photo filters or experiment with Photoshop or a similar program at home. If your child is more tactically inclined, print the photos and together you might add borders or other embellishments. They’ll end up with a cherished memento of their visit.
  7. Visit our animal artists. Some of the animals who live at the Zoo, including elephants and rhinos, moonlight as artists. Observe each of these animals closely and see if you can figure out how they’re able to paint. Want to display a one-of-a-kind masterpiece created by one of our animal artists in your own home? Purchase one online or book a behind-the-scenes experience that involves watching a penguin, goat or elephant paint a canvas just for you.

    VIPenguin Tour

    VIPenguin Tour

  8. Get a “handimal” painted especially for your child. Visit the booth near Vine Street Village where the artists will turn your child’s handprint into a colorful and creative animal image. You’ll leave with a unique keepsake and your child will witness an artist at work.

    Handimals! (Photo: Shasta Bray)

    Handimals! (Photo: Shasta Bray)

August 3, 2016   4 Comments

Come Meet the New Malayan Tigers on International Tiger Day

Our new Malayan tigers, Jalil (male) and Cinta (female), have made their public debut in Cat Canyon just in time for our International Tiger Day celebration. This Friday, July 29, Cat Canyon keepers and Zoo volunteers will be on hand at the Malayan tiger exhibit to share the latest news on our tigers and the need for tiger conservation. Throughout the day, there will be special presentations and activities for guests and tigers alike.

Jalil scopes out his new digs. (Photo: Kathy Newton)

Jalil scopes out his new digs. (Photo: Kathy Newton)

While we celebrate and increase awareness for tiger conservation here at the Zoo, we also continue to support tiger conservation in the wild through Panthera’s Tigers Forever program. In Malaysia, Panthera works with international partners to train local rangers to patrol forests, gather intelligence and arrest poachers in Taman Negara National Park and Endau-Rompin National Park.Panthera logo

Panthera employs cutting-edge technology in the fight against poaching. PoacherCams are motion-activated cameras that send real-time photos of people engaged in illegal activities to law enforcement. Thanks to these efforts, recent population monitoring data indicates that the tiger population is stable in Taman Negara and increasing in Endau-Rompin. Great news for Malayan tigers!

Cat Canyon keeper, Mike Land, talks to visitors about tigers (Photo: Crissi Lanier)

Cat Canyon keeper, Mike Land, talks to visitors about tigers (Photo: Crissi Lanier)

So come on out to the Zoo on Friday and celebrate with us! New this year, our vendor will offer discounts on tiger face painting to support the event so you can take your tiger fandom to the next level.

Tiger fans! (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

Tiger fans! (Photo: Cassandre Crawford)

July 27, 2016   No Comments

Slumber Party at the Zoo with a Cheetah Cub, a Puppy and a Trainer

Donni the cheetah cub and Moose the lab puppy

When I was invited to join Cat Ambassador Program (CAP) trainer Lauren K. on one of her overnight shifts with Donni the five-month-old cheetah cub and his puppy companion, Moose, I accepted without hesitation! As part of Donni’s training to become a Cincinnati Zoo cat ambassador, four full-time CAP trainers are caring for the cub and his chocolate lab buddy 24/7 and take turns spending the night with the playful pair on a fold-out futon in the cat facility’s kitchen.  I was excited to witness the evening routine and prepared not to get much sleep!

Arrival (5 p.m.) – I meet up with Lauren who explains that these overnights are a critical part of raising ambassador cheetahs, as they can be very delicate cats. However, it’s also one of the best parts of the job! A normal day in the life of a CAP team member is fulfilling, but forming a bond with a young cheetah like this takes rewarding to another level!

Trainer Lauren & Donni

The dynamic duo will be ready to stay through the night on their own soon, but for now, the trainers are working on creating an unbreakable bond that will last a lifetime.  As Donni learns to trust his trainers, Moose teaches him social behaviors and provides comfort and companionship (similar to the role Blakely (the Australian shepherd) plays in the Zoo’s Nursery). The two will keep each other company for the next few years as Donni grows up to be an ambassador for his wild counterparts. Moose will help us educate visitors about how dogs are used for conservation across Africa.

Van Training: Lauren says first on the list is to order dinner  (Meatball Kitchen… great vegetarian options too!) and hop in the van with Donni to go pick it up! The CAP travels to schools all over the tri-state, so it’s important for him to be at ease in the van. He doesn’t mind the van and will lay or sit down, and even stand on his back legs and put his front paws up so he can see out of the window.  Donni, and all cheetahs taken off Zoo grounds, are put in a spacious crate in the back of the van for their riding safety. The walk to the van also provides a great opportunity for practice walking on a leash.


Donni has plenty of extra room to lay down, walk or sit in the van crate


Cat Ambassador Program van. Here Comes the Zoo!

Dinner Time: While we pick up our food, and drive around Clifton, Donni relaxes in the back. It will be his turn to eat when we get back to the Zoo. This growing cub eats four times a day, at 8am, 12pm, 5:30pm and 10pm. His meaty meals consist of a raw beef diet and treat meat used for training. He eats 22 oz a day (Tommy, a full grown male cheetah at the Zoo eats 3 pounds a day). He’ll also get a chicken foot for extra calcium and to help him learn to rip and tear food. Training sessions go along with Donni’s feedings. He’s learning to sit and to respond to recall cues now.  Eventually he’ll learn behaviors that will make medical procedures and exams easier to perform.

Lauren prepares Donni's dinner

Lauren prepares Donni’s dinner

Donni eating a raw meat diet during a training session

Donni eating a raw meat diet during a training session

Play time: After Donni eats, Lauren puts him with Moose in their small outdoor yard for a play session. We take our food outside and watch the two run around the yard (hopefully burning off some energy!).

Socialization: Visitors are another part of the nightly routine to get Donni and Moose used to strangers. They will see thousands of new faces in their lifetime through school and education programs and socialization when they are young is important so they are used to being around people they don’t know and are comfortable and well-adjusted when they are adult cheetahs out at programs. Tonight’s visitor is Katie B. from Amelia (best friend perk).  While she is helping with socialization, she learns about the Cat Ambassador Program and the hard work that goes into raising a cheetah ambassador.donni

Reinforcing Good Behavior: After visiting time is over, it is treat time for the boys! Donni receives a chicken foot and Moose gets a dog bone.

Nap time: After playing, visiting with Katie and receiving treats, the two are ready for a brief nap. As you can see, Donni is the dominant of the two and even takes all of the toys for himself during nap time!

Movie & Paperwork: While the boys nap, Lauren fills out a comprehensive log detailing everything that Donni & Moose have been doing this evening. Each night, the trainer on duty will document food intake and activities to make sure they are progressing as they should be. I watched “Duma,” a movie about cheetahs, while Lauren did paperwork.

Moose Training: After a short nap, it’s time for Moose’s training session. Each night, the keepers work on behaviors, each unique to the trainer. Lauren is working on high five, down, roll over, and circle around. She describes Moose as very smart and eager to learn! The trainers use a clicker to bridge the gap between the good behavior and the reward. When it’s clicked, he knows he did the right behavior and that food is coming. Between the four trainers, Moose has learned ten behaviors in a very short time!


High Five from Moose

After his training session, it’s time for leash practice.  We do a quick walk to the van and back. Moose gets distracted by a bug.


Look closely! It’s Moose and a bug!

Playtime Part II: When we return from the walk, Donni is well rested and ready to play again! Do these two ever tire out?

Donni Training: It’s time for another training session with Donni. He’s learning behaviors that will make vet check ups in the future less stressful and more comfortable for him. If a vet needs to draw blood, give a vaccine or trim his dew claw, he’ll be familiar with being touched in the indicated areas and will even offer a paw for certain procedures.

Bedtime: It’s finally time for bed, but Donni and Moose get a burst of energy before settling down. Moose heads to the mat Lauren laid out for him, and Donni kindly hogs the futon.


Donni hogs the futon.

I squeezed my way onto the futon with Donni as Lauren finished up her log for the night. The feeling of of having a cheetah cub stretch it’s long, lean legs over you and fall asleep against you is something I will never forget. Cheetahs are endangered, and their population worldwide has shrunk from about 100,000 in 1900 to an estimated 9,000 to 12,000 cheetahs today. I feel lucky to be able to share this night with such an important ambassador.


Donni goes to join Moose on the mat. Spoon!


Four in the futon!

Lights are out and it’s time to sleep! However, a small futon, a cheetah cub, a big puppy, two humans and a lot of excitement makes it hard to fall asleep! I finally doze off for a few hours and wake up feeling like someone is staring at me. I open my eyes and find I’m nose-to-nose with Moose who is sitting on the floor staring at me. Apparently he wants to play. He digs around in his toy box and pulls out toys. When he goes over to Donni at the foot of the futon and starts licking him, Lauren tries to get him to go to bed. He jumped up and laid in my arms. Having a puppy on one side of you and a cheetah cub curled up in the crook of your legs is the happiest feeling ever. I didn’t even mind that I wouldn’t get any sleep!

The noises overnight at the Cat Ambassador Program make me realize again the importance of having a comforting person around in these first few months. You can hear other small nocturnal cats playing with enrichment items and even Sir Francis Bacon running around in the middle of the night.


Sir Francis Bacon, the red river hog, sound asleep

So until Donni and Moose are used to these random noises in the night, it’s important for a trainer to be nearby to comfort them! However, besides Moose’s 3am invitation to play, Donni seemed to snooze the night away.


Morning: 6am came early and it was time to get up and get moving again for the day. Lauren had just enough time to clean up before the next trainer arrived and run home  before returning for her 8am shift. I’ve witnessed the dedication Cincinnati Zoo keepers have for their animals, but this is truly special.

The Enquirer is following Donni as he grows up and trains to be part of CAP.  Keep up with Donni’s story on Cincinnati.com

Cat Ambassador Program


The Cat Ambassador Program (CAP) educates more than 150,000 people a year about the importance of cheetahs and other wild cat predators. From April to October, Zoo guests can witness cheetahs running and other wild cats performing natural behaviors during Cheetah Encounter shows. During the school year, CAP staff introduces students to cheetahs and small wild cats during assembly programs. The CAP also collects donations for The Angel Fund to support cheetah conservation. Cat Ambassador Program founder Cathryn Hilker and a cheetah named Angel worked together to educate people about cheetahs. Established in Angel’s memory in 1992, The Angel Fund raises funds to support a variety of cheetah conservation projects committed to saving cheetahs both in captivity and in the wild.

July 8, 2016   6 Comments