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Dog Log: Puppies, Puppies and More Puppies!

A very pregnant Imara

A very pregnant Imara with mate Brahma

It’s official folks! Our pair of African painted dogs, Imara and Brahma, are now a pack! Early on Monday, January 5, keepers observed Imara having contractions. Eight minutes later, the first pup was born and the new mama didn’t stop until almost 10pm that night. Normal time intervals between each birth are 30-90 minutes and Imara followed that almost exactly.

Two-year-old Imara came to Cincinnati this past summer from the Oglebay Good Zoo in Wheeling, West Virginia and eight-year-old Brahma, came to us from Zoo New England in Boston. The first time parents have done an exceptional job taking care of all the little ones. It’s a bit of a surprise considering neither of our dogs had a “traditional” upbringing.  Imara was hand reared when her mother didn’t take care of her litter and Brahma had spent the majority of his life with just his 2 brothers.

Brahma entering the box

Brahma enters the den to check on Imara and pups

We are ecstatic that these 2 dogs have taken to parenthood so quickly and easily. Captive African painted dog females aren’t necessarily well known for being the best mothers, but when they do what they are supposed to, they are phenomenal parents. What’s even more special is that although the males will help in varying degrees, for example guarding the nest box and bringing the female food, Brahma went above and beyond what would be considered typical male behavior. He actually groomed almost every single puppy as Imara delivered them and aided her with the removal of the placenta (which normally the females handle all by themselves).

I must admit, when we introduced Imara and Brahma, it was so anticlimactic that I wondered if they would just be buddies. You could tell that they would get along fine, but Brahma was way more into Imara than she was into him. Just because you put a male and female together, it doesn’t guarantee they will breed. In the wild, the alpha female will choose a mate, giving him breeding rights and alpha male status within the pack. In captivity, the females don’t always have the option. However, it is very clear that these 2 dogs were meant to be parents. And fantastic parents at that!

We still have a long road ahead of us. The first couple of months are the most critical. African painted dogs are a sensitive and somewhat fragile species, but if the last few days are any indication, this litter will help increase the number of dogs in the captive population and also increase their genetic diversity. At this time, when captive African painted dog numbers (in North America) are low, every dog counts. These puppies will grow up to be ambassadors to their wild counterparts and will hopefully inspire people to help save this endangered species. For now, we will enjoy the dog pile, or in this case “squirming puppy pile”, as they continue to grow and learn from Imara and Brahma how to be the charismatic African painted dogs they were meant to be!

Imara and pups

Imara and pups

January 12, 2015   7 Comments

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

Cincinnati Zoo Gives Back

On Saturday, November 22, thirty Zoo employees with their families joined another twenty volunteers from our Avondale neighborhood to pack up 225 boxes filled with all the ingredients to create a fresh, full, Thanksgiving meal. The boxes were passed out to children and their families from Rockdale Academy, South Avondale Elementary, and the SO-ACT Senior Citizen Group, giving them a hand up to kick off this holiday season and us the opportunity to show our support for our community.

Thanksgiving Food Drive

This 4th Annual Thanksgiving Food Drive was organized by Avondale’s Avenue District Block Club, of which the Zoo is a member. Almost every department in the Zoo, along with some of our great partners such as HGC Construction and Keep Cincinnati Beautiful, donated enough funds to support the cost of 150 meals. An overwhelming response from other local institutions and individuals helped us reach the final count of 225 meals. Those donors include:

  • Habitat for Humanity of Greater Cincinnati
  • The Community Builders
  • Ronald McDonald House Charities
  • Avondale Community Council (ACC)
  • Avondale Comprehensive Development Corporation
  • The Community Builders (TCB), LISC (Local Initiates Support Corporation)
  • Uptown Consortium
  • Lincoln Ware Walking Club
  • Avondale Running Club
  • PES Marketing

Boxes donated by Two Men and a Truck and RR Donnelly West Chester were stuffed with a 15lb turkey and all the fixings for a hearty Thanksgiving feast. Many thanks to the Avondale Youth Council for doing all of the shopping for us, as well as putting together all 225 boxes.

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Sheila Holmes Howard, President and Secretary of AADBC shares, “I am so thankful for the generous outpouring of support from folks who truly care and who continually give back to our community. This is HUGE! It is totally awesome! AADBC and ACC thank everyone who unselfishly gives their time, talents and money”.

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The Cincinnati Zoo is committed not only to the conservation of wildlife, but to serving our community as a part of our mission. By providing our community with the resources and tools they need to live a healthy and sustainable life, we not only strengthen our relationship with them, but empower them to save money, save resources and instill pride within their homes and our neighborhoods. Our staff was thankful to be part of such a generous and meaningful event to kick off this holiday season.

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December 8, 2014   No Comments