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Category — Africa exhibit

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

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