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Category — Hooved Mammals

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

Painted Dogs: Connecting our Africa Exhibit to Carnivore Conservation in Tanzania

We are in the home stretch, putting the finishing touches on Phase IV of our ambitious Africa exhibit this week, which opens to the public on Saturday. Soon, the large savannah will be home to Thomson’s gazelles, impala and lesser kudu as well as ostrich, pink-backed pelicans and more. New exhibits include bat-eared foxes (future meerkat) and, of course, African painted dogs.

Thomson's gazelle (Photo: Paul Mannix)

Thomson’s gazelles (Photo: Paul Mannix)

Ostriches (Photo: Benh Lieu Song)

Ostriches (Photo: Benh Lieu Song)

African painted dog (Photo: Christian Sperka)

African painted dog (Photo: Christian Sperka)

It’s been quite a few years since the Zoo has exhibited African painted dogs and we’re all very excited about their return. Our female is named Imara. She came to us from Oglebay’s Good Zoo. Our male is Haka and he came to us from the Brookfield Zoo. Both of them were born in 2012. Their exhibit is a large, beautiful grassy yard featuring trees, a creek and a rocky den. Guests will be able to view them up close through a large glass window on one end of the exhibit. At the other end, the viewing opportunity is open air.

Watering the grass in the new painted dog yard.

Watering the grass in the new painted dog yard

You'll be able to find out what it's like to have large ears like a painted dog.

You’ll be able to find out what it’s like to have large ears like a painted dog.

Installing the signs at the bat-eared fox exhibit.

Installing the signs at the bat-eared fox exhibit.

African painted dogs are endangered in the wild with fewer than 6,000 remaining in central and southern Africa. The Zoo contributes to their conservation by supporting the Ruaha Carnivore Project (RCP) in Tanzania. RCP works with local communities to ensure the survival of carnivores and people in and around Ruaha National Park. The Ruaha region is home to Africa’s third largest population of painted dogs and 10% of Africa’s lions.

Lion in Ruaha region of Tanzania (Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project)

Lion in Ruaha region of Tanzania (Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project)

RCP documents the presence and location of wildlife species through community-reported sightings and photos taken by motion-triggered cameras. Through the Ruaha Explorer’s Club, the Zoo sponsors one of the cameras. In return, RCP posts images taken by the Cincinnati Zoo Cam on a dedicated Facebook page; like the page to follow along! Interested in sponsoring a camera yourself? Find out more on RCP’s website.

Painted dog caught on camera in Ruaha region (Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project)

Painted dog caught on camera in Ruaha region (Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project)

RCP also works to improve the lives of people and predators by reducing attacks on livestock and retaliatory attacks by people. Reinforcing fencing around corrals to keep livestock safe from predators at night, for example, goes a long way towards building positive relationships between people and predators.

Improved corral fence, or boma (Photo: Jon Erickson)

Improved corral fence, or boma (Photo: Jon Erickson)

RCP also helps communities realize tangible benefits from having carnivores around by providing employment for local people, school supplies, scholarships and a stocked medical clinic. Regular education and outreach activities such as movie nights and community meetings are held. They even take villagers and schoolchildren who have never been to the national park on educational visits with support from the Cincinnati Zoo’s Angel Fund.

Local Maasai women visiting Ruaha National Park (Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project)

Local Maasai women visiting Ruaha National Park (Photo: Ruaha Carnivore Project)

We hope you will come see Imara and Haka, our new painted dogs, at the Zoo next time you visit and we invite you to join us in supporting the conservation of their counterparts in the wild.

June 25, 2014   No Comments

The Growing (Giraffe) Family at the Cincinnati Zoo

As an accredited member of the Association of Zoos & Aquarium (AZA), the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden works closely with the AZA’s Population Management Center.   The Center works with accredited zoos throughout North America, drafting recommended Species Survival Plans (SSP) for roughly 340 species.  The Maasai giraffe that you see at the Cincinnati Zoo are carefully monitored and considered in these plans, both to safely preserve the species’ genetic diversity as well as to make sure there are enough new births to keep the captive population’s size stable and healthy.

Today, fewer than 150 Maasai giraffe exist in the North American captive population, including the five females and one male that live here at the Cincinnati Zoo.  In order to support genetic diversity in the North American Maasai giraffe population, considering its size, AZA-accredited Zoos breed animals only when given a Species Survival Plan (SSP) recommendation.

Nasha, Tessa and Lulu

Nasha, Tessa and Lulu

That being said, for all three of the Cincinnati Zoo’s recent giraffe births, the Zoo has received recommendations from the SSP.   Through evaluating their genetic diversity our male, “Kimba”, and seven-year-old female, “Tessa”, the SSP was able to determine that these two paired together create offspring that are genetically diverse, and provide genetics for future offspring that are not already well represented in the captive population.

In the wild, once a female giraffe reaches maturity, her natural behavior is to breed right away after a calf is born. When we can, zoos like to allow animals to imitate those natural wild behaviors.  At the appropriate age, a wild female giraffe is typically breeding, pregnant, or nursing a calf at all times.  Young giraffe are vulnerable to predators, which means the wild populations are not always stable, coupled with the long gestation period of about sixteen months, means there is always a need to breed. While there are not predators in captivity, zoos are responsible for carefully managing captive populations to keep both individual animals healthy and happy, as well as the group at large.

The Cincinnati Zoo’s giraffe keepers, animal care staff, and vets have worked closely with the AZA SSP Program Managers over the last five years and look forward to continuing Maasai giraffe breeding success in the future.  With the arrival of two new females, “Cece” and “Jambo,” last Spring, the Cincinnati Zoo is hopeful that the breeding program in Cincinnati will continue to grow and prosper.

 

May 8, 2014   8 Comments