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How to Train a Crane

For sheer beauty and elegance, few zoo birds rival the wattled cranes in the African Journey.  You’d never guess that these seemingly peaceful birds have an aggressive streak.

“They will jab at you with their beak,” says Amber Eagleson, who manages the African Journey.  “And there is some serious power in those legs – they will kick right at you.” 

Wattled cranes stand four to five feet tall and are native to wetlands throughout sub-Saharan Africa.  Our birds, Betty and Hannibal, are an established pair who produced their first clutch of eggs last year.  Unfortunately, both eggs were crushed, probably by the cranes themselves as they moved around in their nest – not uncommon in first-time parents.

Because of the potential for injury, zoo keepers always work in pairs when entering the cranes’ marshy enclosure, which sits along the boardwalk near the African Journey’s exit.  They also wear goggles for eye protection, and carry a broom to fend off the birds if they get aggressive. 

Another tool used to manage the cranes is training.  “The cranes are trained to station on a target,” like a colored board on a stick, Eagleson explains.  “By rewarding them when they touch their beak to the target, we can move them to a different area of the exhibit.”  This allows keepers to keep the cranes’ attention when crews are performing maintenance in the exhibit, for example.  “It also allows us to see the birds up close and inspect their body condition,” Eagleson says.  The cranes are rewarded for their participation with pinky mice. 

Wattled crane populations are shrinking in Africa, due to destruction and alteration of wetlands.

Click on the photos below to view them full screen.

Viewing Tip:

Betty and Hannibal reinforce their pair bond with unison calls – loud, shrill honks that are made with heads tilted back.  They also perform an elaborate mating dance, jumping up and down with wings flapping while moving back and forth.  “I see this nearly every day,” Eagleson says.  Also, watch for nest-building activity this fall – eggs are usually laid in late August or early September in a huge grassy nest.

How to Make a Lion Eat His Dinner

Bill the lion needs no introduction.  His laid-back attitude and stunning physique make him a crowd favorite.  Thanks to his penchant for resting on the exhibit window, he’s in thousands of family photos.  Could he be any more of a superstar?

“I think Bill just enjoys being awesome,” says zoo keeper Jennifer McDermott. 

Bill was only two years old with a scruffy little mane when he debuted at the African Journey’s grand opening in 2009.  As he prepares to celebrate his 7th birthday on July 22, he has matured into a beautiful 435-pound adult male lion.

But amid all the hype, Bill has a few bad habits.  According to McDermott, “Bill is the pickiest eater I’ve ever seen.”

Because lions eat only one thing – meat – this can be a problem.  The zoo buys a frozen prepared meat diet (similar to a tube of ground beef) by the ton.  When a new batch of meat arrives, keepers know that Bill will snub his finicky nose at it, at least for the first few days.

“He makes what I call a ‘yuck’ face, like a little kid,” says McDermott.  “He’ll scrunch up his eyes, stick out his tongue, and walk away from his food.”  In lion-speak, this apparently means “I don’t wanna eat this, and you can’t make me!”

McDermott doesn’t worry about Bill’s diva-like attitude regarding his dinner.  “He eventually eats it,” she says. 

Unlike Bill, Ina the lioness is very interested in her food.  When McDermott calls the cats to dinner at the end of the day, Ina makes a beeline for the meat placed in their night quarters.  Bill, on the other hand, takes his sweet time.  “We just wait him out,” says McDermott.  When he does decide to come inside, “He walks very slowly,” she says. 

Bad habits aside, McDermott is in awe of Bill.  “I love looking into his eyes,” she says.  “He’s just beautiful.”

Read more about lions here.

You can help feed the lions at a VIP Experience.

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baby colobus monkey

Meet Kaasidy, Our Little Daredevil

How many ways can a 9-month-old monkey worry her keepers?  Kaasidy the baby colobus monkey is trying to find out.

“She’s quite the daredevil ,” said African Journey Area Manger Amber Eagleson of Kaasidy.  Eagelson describes Kaasidy’s first day in the new colobus monkey exhibit, when the little monkey climbed to the top of the exhibit, let go, and dropped ten feet to a low branch.  “My heart stopped for just a second,” says Eagleson.  But Kaasidy had no worries – she climbed to the top and did it all over again.

One of Kaasidy’s favorite antics is to hang from the long bushy tails of her mother, Jibini, and Wamblenica, another female.  “They don’t seem to mind at all,” said Eagleson.  But dad’s tail is off-limits.  “We never see her hanging from Finnigan’s tail – he’s not as tolerant as the females.”

Kaasidy was born on September 25, so she was on exhibit for only a few days before the zoo closed for the season.  The colobus family moved back outdoors after their exhibit in the African Journey was completely rebuilt and enlarged this spring.  Colobus monkeys are native to the forests of central and eastern Africa. 

Eagleson encourages you to spend time at the colobus exhibit and watch Kaasidy at play.  “She only rests for a few minutes,” Eagleson said.  “Then she’s back at it again.”

Read more about colobus monkeys.

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zebra face

Zebras with Spots?

As she prepares to feed the zebras on the 3-acre African Journey savannah, zoo keeper Lisa Gehlhausen gathers her equipment.  Wheelbarrow:  check.   Zebra treats:  check.  Stick to fend off ostrich:  check. Treats for ostrich:  check.  Wait a minute – are we feeding the ostrich or the zebras?

“You really can’t feed one without the other,” she says.  “The ostrich follow us everywhere.”

Indeed, Kimmy and Penny, the zoo’s two female ostriches, are ever-present as Gehlhausen tosses chunks of carrot and sweet potato to the zebras.  “We use these treats to encourage the zebras to go into the barn at night,” she explains.  “That helps reduce wear and tear on the pasture.”  The zebras also eat hay and grain, and nibble on real grass on the pasture.

A bucket of cracked corn distracts the ostriches while Gehlhausen explains how she tells the zoo’s three female zebras apart.  “Each zebra has different markings,” she says.  “The trick is to look at the things that aren’t stripes.”  Telodi, for example, has one white spot on the left side of her lower neck, while Jasiri has two white spots in the center of her neck, as if she is wearing a necklace.  Okolo has a black spot on her left shoulder.

As herd animals, Telodi, Jasiri, and Okolo are never far from each other.  And if there’s food involved, the ostriches are guaranteed to be in the vicinity.

Click on the photos below to enlarge.