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Category — Keeper’s Komments

Sara. Remembrance of a life well lived.

By: Cathryn Hilker, Founder of the Cincinnati Zoo’s Cat Ambassador Program


Cathryn and Sara in 2000

As so many cheetahs before her, Sara came to live on our Mason farm when she was 5 weeks old. We intended to raise her with an Anatolian shepherd dog so she could have a companion for herself but also a companion who could speak to the program of wildlife management in Namibia where these dogs are widely used for predator control.  Captive cheetah are often raised with a dog, as they make excellent companions, but not always. As soon as this little cheetah named Sara saw our little Anatolian puppy the cat attacked the dog with such a ferocious attitude that I had to separate them.  Their relationship became even worse over the next several days until I sent the puppy back and got a much bigger and older Anatolian dog. This change worked well and Sara and Alexa where lifelong companions.  They did school shows, summer shows, tv appearances and much more until Alexa retired, leaving Sara to continue alone. Upstairs she went, downstairs, elevators, moving stairs. She did all that and more, never failing to do her part.


Sara and her companion Lexi

The joy of running is in the heart and the ancient memory of every cheetah. Sara was no different. At home in her first few weeks we only did short runs in her fenced in yard but the day came when I wanted to see how much Sara could do. I was there with her when the joy and the play of running suddenly turned serious for her.  It was a Reds baseball cap that triggered her natural instinct to run with utter resolution. To chase, to catch, to hold. I could hardly get the cap away from her. Then she knew what running meant to the cheetah. It made her break her own record for speed, when the National Geographic filmed her, at age 11, running 61 mph. 100 meters in 5.95 seconds.


She will be remembered by thousands of school children who heard her loud purr or heard her nails clicking on the table top where she stayed during the program. My memories are imprinted in my heart and mind of a tiny brave little cheetah who grew up and turned into the elegant animal that the mature cheetah is. The claw marks from her tiny little claws when she was a cub remain on my bedspread to this day and the hole she chewed through my zoo jacket and the awkward job I did of sewing it up will remain there for the rest of my life.


photo by Jill Halpin

We will miss Sara’s eyes, fixed on our eyes, always asking “what next”?  Indeed Sara, what next, in your giant shadow of grace other cheetahs will follow your lead and our race to educate and tell your story so that your species can always be, waiting to answer “what next”.

January 22, 2016   38 Comments

Meet the King Penguins of the #BestParadeInAmerica


Every day at 11am and 2:30pm during Penguin Days, presented by FirstEnergy, you will find the zoo’s Aviculture Department leading the way during the Best Parade in America, the Penguin Parade!  Our colony of King Penguins walk between the Wings of Wonder bird house and the entrance of the Children’s Zoo where they spend the day outside enjoying the winter weather.  One common question that we get at almost every parade is “What are their names?”  Here is a handy dandy list to help you out identifying each member of our colony the next time you are walking with us:

Kyoto - red - 2


-Kyoto-  Red.  You can usually find Kyoto leading the group at each parade.  He also marches to the beat of his own drum, especially when we walk near fresh snow or by the entrance to the Basecamp Café.  Maybe he is a fan of green restaurants, since it is the greenest restaurant in the land.

charlemagne - yellow


-Charlemagne- Yellow.  Charlemagne may be the youngest, but is by far the largest King in our colony.  You can usually find him trying to keep up with his older brother Kyoto in the front of the parade.

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

-Martin Luther- Purple.  Luther usually stays to the middle of the group during the parade.  In my opinion, he is the best looking King out of the bunch.



-BB- Green.  The only female of our group, you can find her bringing up the rear of the parade.  She has successfully reared quite a few King chicks while here at the zoo, Kyoto and Charlemagne being two of them.



-Larry- Blue.  While Luther might be the best looking King, Larry is definitely the most regal-looking.  Watch him during the parade, and you will probably see him holding his chest out proudly and possibly even vocalize during the route.  Larry and BB have incubated a few chicks together, see above; watch them while outside to see if they are performing any courtship behaviors.  You can usually find Larry in the middle of the group as well.



-Burger- Orange.  On rare occasions, you will find the elder statesman of the colony, Burger, out with the rest of the group.  It doesn’t happen too often, but he usually decides to go on parade at least once per season, and likes to hang near the back of the parade.

Hopefully this list makes it a little easier for you to identify the birds during the Best Parade in America.  Test your knowledge every day through the month of February at 11am and 230pm, as long as the temperature is below 50 degrees.  The weather might be cold, but Penguin Days is a great way to get outside and enjoy the season while seeing some amazing animals while you are at it. Follow #BestParadeInAmerica and @cincinnatizoo on Twitter for updates!






January 13, 2016   3 Comments

Dog Log: Chapter 8 – A Whole New World for the Boys

Luke in crate.

Luke during crate training.

As some of you may have noticed on your recent visit to the zoo, the male painted dog puppies are no longer here. On November 11, our six males, Oswald, Riddler, Alfred, Luke, Hugo and Bruce, were moved to Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. This move was recommended by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP), which ensures healthy populations and genetic diversity among zoo animals. Typically, when you have a stable alpha pair, painted dogs stay in their family pack until they are two years old so that they can see another litter raised and learn how to be great parents or helpers in the future. Unfortunately, with the passing of our alpha male, we had to make this move before our juvenile males reached breeding age.  In their new home, the boys will be rotated with spotted hyena and viewable to visitors throughout park operating hours.

To prepare for a move like this can take weeks or months of training. The dogs have to be taught to break from their natural inclination to stay together as a pack and enter crates individually. Getting them comfortable being separate and being in a smaller space takes a lot of work and patience. The first step is to just let them see the crate, touch it, smell it and let them have access to it with both ends open so they can explore in and around it. Next, we would place the crate in a doorway that they have to walk through. Again, this just gets them used to going in and out of it. Once they are used to it as part of their holding, we put one door on the end so that we can ask them to come into it to get treats. Keepers secure the crate to the wall with the crate flush to the doorway, and then ask the dogs to come in to take snacks through the mesh in the crate door. It didn’t take long for the boys to be comfortable being in the crates. The younger dogs, especially those that have never traveled in a crate before, tend to do better since they have no prior knowledge of the experience. We only use their favorite snacks like beef heart and chunk meat to capture this behavior. Due to the time we were able to spend conditioning them, all 6 dogs were crated and loaded on the transport truck in 40 minutes on the day of their departure. The boys did such a great job!

The week before they were scheduled to go out, two keepers from Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park traveled to Cincinnati to meet the dogs and their keepers (including me). We discussed the complexity of their social structure, husbandry, personality traits and behaviors specific to the pack they would be escorting to Florida. The keepers, Melaina and Heather, also observed crate training sessions and familiarized themselves with how we get the dogs to take their monthly heart worm preventative.

After a 14-hour drive, the boys arrived safely and were unloaded into their new home. The 2 lovely Disney keepers let us know as soon as they got there and have been sending updates on them every couple of days since their arrival. Even though we were sad to see them go, we’re happy that these special animals will have the opportunity to inspire the millions of visitors that visit Disney’s Animal Kingdom Theme Park. With a much larger audience, it is my hope that Alfred, Oswald, Riddler, Luke, Hugo and Bruce will excite more people to care about this species and their plight in the wild. For the time being, Selina, Ivy, Lucy and Quinn will be coming into their own here in Cincinnati under the watchful eye of their mother, Imara.

The boys were introduced to their new environment earlier this week!  See how they’re doing in the Kilimanjaro Safaris savanna.

The boys in their new exhibit.

The boys in their new exhibit.

December 9, 2015   1 Comment