Random header image... Refresh for more!

Category — Africa exhibit

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

Dog Log: Chapter 9 – Updates from Cincinnati and Tanzania

Co-written by Dana Burke & Shasta Bray

Here at the Zoo

It’s been six months since our African painted dog boys made their way south, and they are doing great. They especially love watching all of the different hoof stock they get to see while on exhibit. Their keepers tell me they really enjoy watching the waterbuck, but I digress.

Imara and the girls, who are now 15 months old, have been doing well as an all girl group. Imara still tends to let them rule themselves, but will step in if she feels it is necessary. There have been some rumblings among the ranks within the juveniles (as you would expect with all females), but nothing major. Selina is still the alpha with Quinn as her second. These two have been the top two dogs since the females developed their hierarchy when they were very young. Next is Ivy and Lucy follows as the bottom dog.

Selina (Photo: Dana Burke)

Selina (Photo: Dana Burke)

Quinn (Photo: Dana Burke)

Quinn (Photo: Dana Burke)

The plan to move three of the juveniles is finally moving forward. As per the African Painted Dog Species Survival Plan, Selina and Quinn will be transported to the Wilds in Columbus. It is our hope that Selina will breed with a male that they are getting from another zoo. Ivy will be shipped to Honolulu to breed with a male that they house. That leaves Lucy here with Imara.

The reasons why we are shipping which dogs where is a well thought out process that takes into account the status, relationships and personalities of the individuals. Since Selina and Quinn have been bonded for most of their lives, we feel that their best chance for success is to move them together. Quinn has the capability of being a great helper and babysitter if Selina produces a litter. Of course, moving the dogs to a new facility could cause change between the sisters, but with Selina being a true alpha, we expect her to retain her status. Quinn has never really challenged her and moving to a new space will most likely result in her looking to Selina for guidance. All of these factors should lead to a smooth introduction to the male in a best case scenario.

Ivy (Photo: Dana Burke)

Ivy (Photo: Dana Burke)

We chose to move Ivy as a single dog because of her personality as well. In the last few months, Ivy has become a more confident dog. That being said, with her increase in confidence, she has also become more of a trouble maker and has challenged all of her sisters at some point. Ivy likes to stir the pot so to speak. Again, because of these traits, we feel that she would make a great alpha all on her own with a single male.

That leaves Imara and Lucy here in Cincinnati. Imara, who did a beautiful job raising the 10 pups we had in January last year, is not the most confident when it comes to being alpha. Lucy on the other hand, even though she is the bottom dog at this point, has the potential to be a pretty good alpha herself. Truth be told, Lucy is a bit of a wild card.

Lucy (Photo: Dana Burke)

Lucy (Photo: Dana Burke)

Within the next couple months, we will be receiving two male dogs. They will be quarantined and then we will set up for introductions. This is where things can get tricky. An introduction with two males and two females is one of the more challenging scenarios you can encounter with this species; however, the pay-off is a truly social pack that reflects those in the wild. Still, this is where things can get tricky. The keepers and animal manager will plan out each step of the process in order to set up the dogs for ultimate success. There will most likely be some fighting, whether it’s between the males or the females or each other, is impossible to guess. There’s even a chance that Lucy could end up alpha over Imara. Genetically, she is technically more valuable than her mother due to being Brahma’s offspring so we are fine with any outcome.

We collected information about the males from their current keepers, but it will be very important to observe them while in quarantine to confirm their hierarchy with each other. The introductions themselves will be done inside the building and once started will be complete in just a few hours. It may take them minutes or days to settle their social structure, but once they do, only the alphas will breed and produce pups. We have a lot of changes coming and are all really excited for what the future holds for this species. We will be sure to keep everyone updated on what is happening and how things are progressing.

Across the Globe in Tanzania

We may be wrapping up with our April showers here in Cincinnati, but they were nothing like the rains that El Nino dumped on our field partners with the Ruaha Carnivore Project (RCP) over the past few months.  Flooding of the Ruaha River caused all kinds of transportation problems.

The Ruaha River overflowed its banks and made travel dangerous in the region. (Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project)

The Ruaha River overflowed its banks and made travel dangerous in the region. (Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project)

The good thing about using remote-triggered cameras to monitor wildlife in the region is that the cameras continue to take pictures even when you have trouble reaching them. Fortunately, only a few of the cameras floated away during the heavy flooding.

Painted dogs caught on camera (Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project)

Painted dogs caught on camera (Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project)

RCP works to secure a future for large carnivores such as African painted dogs, lions and hyenas in and around Ruaha National Park in Tanzania. This region is home to the third largest population of painted dogs in Africa. Check out RCP’s latest update from the field to learn more.

May 4, 2016   2 Comments

Keeper Dog Log – Pups Becoming Dogs

Selina

Selina in Painted Dog Valley

If you’ve been to the Zoo lately, most of you have seen that the painted dog puppies don’t really look like puppies anymore. The largest pup, Luke, weighs in at 66 lbs. The smallest is Lucy at 54 lbs. Imara is still slightly larger at 68 lbs, but the kids are not far behind. A couple more months and the puppies should be about done with their growth. At almost eight months old, they have their adult teeth in and their faces are starting to look more adult-like. The most adult-looking dog to me is Hugo. He has a bigger head and even though Luke weighs more, Hugo seems larger in stature.

Pups swimming in exhibit

Pups swimming in exhibit

In addition to growing like weeds, the puppies and their personalities are still evolving.

On one hand, you have Bruce and Riddler, who seem to enjoy interacting with the keepers, and on the other hand, you have Alfred and Luke, who are a little shy and take some time to warm up. In my opinion, Luke is the most like his father, Brahma, in personality. He is a pretty reserved dog, very vigilant and observant. He is usually the one to sound an alarm call. Lucy and Riddler appear to enjoy hanging out solo on occasion, while everybody else likes to be on top of each other. The hierarchy is also still developing, but for now, Oswald is displaying traits of an alpha. Selina, sometimes with the help of Quinn, is the top female. This will probably change and depending on how the pack continues to develop, it could happen at any time. However, for the time being, Imara is still in charge, although her interference with the puppies has lessened. They are at the point where they need to work things out themselves. It is the way of the pack.

 

Carcass feeding

Carcass feeding

In the middle of July, we fed the pack their first carcass while on exhibit. Imara and the pups received a 70-lb processed (no head or guts) goat carcass. They had a great time with it, and being able to observe all of the natural behaviors that go along with this style of feeding was fantastic! In the wild, the entire hunt and kill is the best way for the pack’s bonds to strengthen. In captivity, it doesn’t get more natural than a carcass. Behaviors were exhibited that I hadn’t seen before. The amount of cooperation and sharing between Imara and the pups was amazing. You can see these behaviors in videos of dogs in Africa, but rarely get to see them in captivity. The puppies would take turns breaking down the goat. It was like a revolving door of dogs; as one dog tired, another one would take its place. They had it picked clean in under two hours.

We still do not have an answer to the most popular question that I hear while chatting with our guests – will we keep all of the puppies, and if not, where will they go? It seems likely that all or some of the males will move to another facility. There is a good chance a couple of them will form new packs for breeding. It’s also possible that a couple of the females will move out as well. Since Brahma’s passing, the pack has had to be managed a little differently than if we had an alpha pair. I am happy to say that I have been accepted into the Painted Dog Species Survival Plan (SSP) management group and I hope to contribute to all of the aspects of managing this species in captivity. The SSP officially meets next month and more decisions will be made, including the possibility of getting an adult male to breed with Imara. So come on out and see Imara and the pups while they are all still here!

September 4, 2015   2 Comments