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Category — General Zoo

Africa Keeper Blog: Lesser Kudu Calvin & Hobbes

We can’t wait for spring when we’ll introduce two lesser kudu, “Calvin” and “Hobbes,” to Cincinnati Zoo’s Africa exhibit!

Calvin, born May 2013, and Hobbes, born August 2013, came to us from the St. Louis Zoo. They have small horns that will continue to grow and spiral with age.

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Male lesser kudu can weigh more than 200 pounds and have a blue-grey color with thin white stripes, huge ears, and spiraled horns.  Calvin and Hobbes are right on track with their weight, tipping the scales at 150 and 125 pounds. The females do not get as large and do not have horns. They also are typically more of a red-brown color.  Kudu are most active at night and can camouflage well in dense thickets during the day. In the wild, their favorite things to eat are bush and tree leaves, shoot and twigs, fruits, and grasses.  Here at the Cincinnati Zoo, they get a specialized highly nutritious grain formulated for herbivores and orchard/alfalfa grass.

Antelope like the lesser kudu, can be tricky animals to work with.  Not because they have scary teeth and sharp claws, or because they have natural instincts to kill, but for the opposite reason. Everyone else wants to eat them! Imagine being the “potato chip” of the African Savannah, where you are a snack to all sorts of predators.  Lesser kudu can run up to 60 miles per hour but still have to constantly be on the look out for common predators like leopards, hyenas, and painted dogs. Because of this, antelope are naturally (and understandably) easily frightened and sometimes move before they think.  Luckily for us, Calvin and Hobbes were champs when it was their time to move into our brand new Africa hoofstock barn.  Everything went well and they are settling in nicely. We have been working hard to make sure they feel comfortable in their new home and with their new caregivers, including me!

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I enjoy all the animals I work with, but Calvin and Hobbes have a special place in my heart.  Each morning we do an initial check on all of our animals to make sure everyone is doing alright.  As I walk down the hallway greeting everyone good morning, the ostrich act like I am invisible, the impala stand on alert while they decide whether or not I am going to try and eat them, and the gazelle are too content and comfy on their beds to stand up.  Once I reach the end of the barn I am finally greeted with some enthusiasm by Calvin and Hobbes. They immediately walk my way in hopes of getting a treat, and my morning is made.  Their favorite treats are apple & oat horse treats, leaf eater biscuits, and fresh produce like romaine lettuce.

Over the past month we have been working with all of the hoofstock, trying to get them more comfortable with our presence. Each one has a different comfort level.  I am thrilled with the progress happening with the kudu.  Not only do they look to us for treats when we walk by, but they will now take food from me while I share their immediate space in the stalls with them and come over to check me out while I am minding my own business cleaning up after them.

Calvin and Hobbes are the largest species of hoofstock in our department. The larger the antelope the calmer they tend to be.  From the beginning, they were interested in the keepers walking outside of their stalls, rather than nervous.  I began standing outside of their stall and tossing treats to them a couple of times each day. After a few days they trusted me enough to come over to take food from my hand as long as I was on the other side of the wall.  They eventually started walking toward me each time I was near in hopes of getting something yummy to eat. Today they walk right over to me, but if I shift my weight or scratch an itch on my face they walk away, or at least take a step back, to make sure the movement was not a threat to their safety. I am hoping that by spring I will have completely earned their trust.

Earning an animal’s trust is key to being successful in my job. Being able to walk in with an animal or to get them to approach you even with the safety of a barrier, makes you a better keeper.  You can closely monitor their skin, hooves, teeth, paws, administer fly repellent or medication, etc. and make their life significantly less stressful. A keeper’s goal is to make each of our animal’s lives the best they can possibly be!

I hope that you enjoy Calvin and Hobbes as much as we do when they finally get to make their grand appearance in our beautiful, new Africa exhibit this spring!

December 26, 2014   4 Comments

Can Progesterone Predict Pregnancy in Red Pandas?

Scientists at CREW are studying the reproduction of red pandas and have diagnosed pregnancies via trans-abdominal ultrasound. However, performing diagnostic ultrasound imaging requires animal training, a costly ultrasound machine (and a trained ultrasonographer to use it), and is not easily performed on less agreeable individuals. The development of a pregnancy test based on fecal analysis would allow non-invasive pregnancy detection in any female and also could be applied to wild individuals.

Conducting an ultrasound

Conducting an ultrasound

In addition to performing regular ultrasounds on the Zoo’s female red pandas, Bailey and Idgie (who has since transferred to another zoo), CREW scientists are measuring fecal hormone metabolites, such as progesterone (P4), to assess their usefulness as indicators of pregnancy.

Bailey had cubs in 2012 and 2013, and both pregnancies were diagnosed via ultrasound. As expected, fecal hormone metabolite analysis showed that her P4 concentrations increased after breeding and remained elevated until she gave birth. The other female, Idgie, was observed breeding, but no pregnancies were detected. Fecal P4 analysis revealed that her P4 was actually higher than Bailey’s in both years, even though she was not pregnant.

These data support the theory of pseudo-pregnancy in red pandas, which has been suggested for years, but not yet proven. Although P4 is generally considered to be the “pregnancy hormone” and can be used to infer pregnancy status in many species, these results indicate that P4 levels alone cannot be used to diagnose pregnancy in red pandas.

Photo: Mark Dumont

Photo: Mark Dumont

December 17, 2014   No Comments

Zoo Academy is Life-changing

Guest blogger: Zoo Academy senior, Dominick Stowers

Hello, my name is Dominick and I am one of the most nonchalant seniors of this year. The reason I came to the Zoo Academy is it sounded like a really amazing experience that will take you far towards being the most renowned zoo keeper or director of a zoo. I came to better my education and I also have always had a real passion for animals of all sorts.

Although I have a passion for animals, I was not always allowed to explore that passion. There was always someone in my family that had a phobia of some kind of animal. My dad had a phobia of snakes and birds of all kinds. My mom and my two sisters and my little brother all have a phobia of insects and of any animal that they knew nothing about. For me, I am open to learning and handling any animal from insects to mammals to reptiles and birds. I just enjoy being around animals and the Zoo Academy gives me that chance to explore my passion.

Here I am handling a ball python

Here I am handling a ball python

The Zoo Academy is not just a high school or a place for work and no fun; that would be short selling the Zoo Academy. This program will allow a person to get their high school diploma and give them the chance to obtain experience in the field of animal care, nutrition and health. The students of this program are able to care for exotic animals that normally they could only see in television or in a movie and here at the Zoo Academy the students provide their services to help the zookeepers take great care of the animals from bathing to feeding. There is no other Zoo in the country that has a full time high school located on their premises, which makes the Cincinnati Zoo so fantastic and it is just an awesome opportunity to learn about rare and endangered animals.

Having the opportunity to work with these animals and these people is life changing. Once you have this experience, you will never look at life the same. The way that I use to view life and how I view life now is totally different. I did not know that life could be so peaceful inside a zoo with all those smells and noises. The zoo is so much more than just 70 acres of noisy and smelly animals; it is a place of peace and harmony which will change a person’s life if given the chance.

December 12, 2014   2 Comments