Written by Amy Dee Stephens, January 2015 issue of Outlook Magazine
“Awww!” It’s something you can’t help but squeal when you see baby animals, especially when at the zoo. Fuzzy chicks, playful elephants, even tiny turtles soften people’s hearts. Every birth that occurs at the Oklahoma City Zoo is extra cause for celebration, because many of the animals are so rare.
“Every zoo birth is exciting,” said Candice Rennels, public relations manager. “It’s such a happy occasion when an endangered species is born because our animals are great ambassadors for their relatives in the wild.”
The most famous zoo baby is Malee the elephant. Her birth in 2011 was historic—the first elephant baby for Oklahoma City! The community fell in love with her, and visitor traffic increased by 150,000 people during her first few months. In December, she was joined by a sibling.
This elephant cuteness has generated excitement since 2009 when their mother Asha, one of the Zoo’s adult female Asian elephants, began breeding. The public was apprised every step along the way, following Asha through her two-year pregnancy with Malee and her second calf due before the New Year.
“An elephant birth is a significant event for our community. There is a strong connection between Oklahomans and our elephants,” Rennels said.
Zoo babies have a large following, and people will follow their life stories for generations. The recent birth of a baby gorilla, Kamina, made international news when she went to the Cincinnati Zoo to be raised by a surrogate mother. Oklahoma City staff knew that Kamina would not do well with her birth mother, so a different gorilla troop was a better option.
Oklahoma City, on the other hand, has earned the reputation as a surrogate zoo for chimpanzees. Recently, two different baby chimps were “adopted” and are now successfully living with their new troop.
The zoo added another surrogate success to its list in November when an African Wild Dog had three puppies. The inexperienced mother showed lack of maternal care, so the staff removed the pups and arranged for a lactating domestic dog to feed and care for these genetically important pups. Lilly, a golden retriever from Kansas raised the three pups right along with one of her own until they all were weaned.
Flocks of Babies
Beyond the famous babies, the zoo is host to all sorts of animal younglings. Raising a flock of flamingo chicks is a bi-annual project for the zoo’s bird keepers. Flamingo eggs are gathered up and incubated, and then the fluffy hatchlings are cared for until spring, when they are integrated into the flock. In this case, because of our native rat snake population our best option for our flamingos is to pull their eggs and hand-raise chicks.
“We take the flamingo chicks on daily walks for exercise,” said curator Darcy Henthorn. “It’s intense work, but one of the coolest avian programs we participate in.”
Baby lorikeets are also hand-raised, but for a different reason—they live in an exhibit that people walk through. “We’ve learned over time, that by hand-raising lorikeet chicks they become more friendly birds for our guests to feed and interact with,” said Holly Ray, zookeeper.
Because of the zoo’s commitment to conservation, most births are well orchestrated. Breeding decisions for endangered species are made by specialized committees worldwide. Mating partners are determined by the individual’s DNA, current offspring in the gene pool, and whether zoos have room for a future baby.
A half-century ago, zoos had a different philosophy about breeding—have as many babies as possible! Why? First, the genuine fear of extinction resulted in a “baby factory” mentality. Second, selling surplus animals, often as pets, was a viable way of making money. Over time, those practices shifted to focus on better care for fewer animals.
“We don’t have indiscriminate breeding anymore,” said Don Whitton, animal records technician. “You’d be surprised how few babies we actually do have during a year.”
Last year, only a handful of reptiles and birds hatched babies, and only a dozen mammals were born. High-profile mammals, like Rupert the baby rhinoceros, generate the most interest. Occasionally a non-mammal baby makes headlines, such as the two Komodo dragon hatchlings who came to the zoo a few years ago. Although they aren’t huge yet—they will be, and visitors enjoy watching them grow.
For the most part, pregnancy is a managed process, and staff members are prepared when a baby arrives. In extreme cases, such as the baby elephant births, fully-trained teams spend the night at the zoo, ready to help with delivery.
Where’s The Nursery?
Another change in practice was the elimination of the zoo nursery. Visitors really enjoyed looking through glass windows at rooms full of baby animals, but zoo professionals now advocate that offspring stay with their parents whenever possible. Every endangered species born into a zoo is part of a viable effort to conserve the species for the future.
Technology and social media, such as cameras showing footage online, allows visitors to have the up-close experience they previously had at the nursery window, and news media keep the public informed of animal births. More exciting babies are on the horizon at the Oklahoma City Zoo—and zoo fans will have a front-row seat to view fluffy, hairy, scaly cuteness.
“Zoo babies melt our hearts,” Rennels said. “More importantly, they are the future for endangered species.”
Learn more about the Oklahoma City Zoo at www.okczoo.com.
Tag Archives: zoo
I was honored to interview these four wonderful artists who use the zoo as a resource for creating their nature-inspired paintings and drawings. ~Amy
Jan McGuire, Acrylic Paintings
Jan McGuire (Bartlesville) paints so that viewers can step into a scene and feel as if they are there. Not surprisingly, she uses photographs and travel experiences to make her acrylic art very realistic.
“I study nature. I go outside every day. Nature is so diverse that I never have trouble coming up with ideas to paint,” McGuire said.
McGuire, who specializes in bird and mammal paintings, has exhibited her art globally, from Tanzania to the Smithsonian. She and her husband, a professional wildlife photographer, visit the zoo multiple times each year, seeking to capture the fine details that cause people to step into a scene, to feel the velvet moss, and to smell the flowers….
“What I appreciate about the Oklahoma City Zoo is the bird aviary in Oklahoma Trails. So many zoos focus on non-North American species. I’m fortunate enough to travel to Africa every year, so I’m much more interested in seeing native species up close. Songbirds are hard to view from a distance, but in the aviary, the birds are acclimated enough to people that we can get great photos.”
Her scissor-tailed fly catcher painting is a direct result of a visit to the zoo. She added tall grass prairie wildflowers to create an accurate habitat for the background.
“We have great wildlife in this state,” McGuire said. “When people see us at the zoo with our big cameras, they always ask us animal questions. I can’t help but educate people about animals. My husband has to keep reminding me, ‘You don’t work here.’”
Jay Tracy, Acrylic Paintings
It’s no surprise that Jay Tracy (Oklahoma City) became a painter, because his parents have owned an art company since 1968. After experimenting with different mediums since childhood, he now specializes in realism, landscapes and animal portraits.
“My entire life has revolved around art, all types of art,” Tracy said. “My most popular commissioned paintings are landscapes, florals, and animals. I’ve always loved animals, and I’m a big dog person.”
Working as a graphic artist for ten years at the Oklahoma City Zoo has allowed him to dabble in many different styles, from designing event posters on the computer to carving foam props for Haunt the Zoo. He particularly enjoys creating the ZooZeum exhibit panels.
As an evening job, Tracy teaches painting classes at the Paint Your Art Out gallery. He creates an original design, and then he leads the students in creating the same painting, but with their own unique style. His most requested themes are nature paintings.
In an effort to help animals, Tracy shares his artistic skills by offering special painting classes, in which the proceeds go toward the zoo’s rhino conservation fund. Each year he creates a new design, like the Serengeti landscape or this year’s popular peacock design.
“Working at the zoo has taught me to have a greater concern for animals that are near extinction. I realize how important conservation is and the important role we can play in saving animals.”
Jerry Bennett, Comic Illustrations
From superheroes to children’s picture books, comic art is a pop-culture craze, and Jerry Bennett (Edmond) is making a living drawing it.
“I grew up on comic books, cartoons and Disney,” Bennett said. “Now I draw licensed comic books and t-shirt designs for Marvel, Lucasfilm, and most recently, Power Rangers.”
Many of Bennett’s original science-fiction characters are created by combining animal features, like a recent lizard/cat creature for his Nadir’s Zenith series. He often visits the zoo to seek inspiration, because he finds that, “Sketching real animals helps me discover their personalities and attitudes.”
Early in his career, when Bennett’s “real job” was working at a door store, he did picture books and portraits as a side job. His big break came when he designed a Ghost Busters/Star Wars t-shirt design.
“That was when the Internet was still new. I sold 3,000 shirts in 24 hours. Someone said, ‘Your image went viral,’ and I asked, ‘What does that mean?’”
Now Bennett sees his drawing skills coming together, because many children’s books are starting to rely on comic book style art. However, many adults are familiar with Bennett’s art. Last year, he created a popular illustration of the Thunder basketball team for the cover of the Gazette and an Avengers design for the cover of the Oklahoma Humanities magazine.
Don’t be surprised to see Bennett at the zoo with his sketch book and fellow artists. He’s found that the zoo is a great location for “sketch crawls.” Artists go from exhibit to exhibit, drawing animals and creating story ideas.
“I think all kinds of artists are inspired by animal life and nature,” Bennett said. “My next goal is to write and illustrate a graphic novel about alien cats!”
Cliff Casey, Pencil Portraits
Sometimes people cry when they see Cliff Casey’s artwork. That’s because Casey (Norman) specializes in drawing favorite animals and special moments in people’s lives.
“I did a dog portrait for a client at Christmas. He said his wife cried when she saw the gift, because the dog’s facial expression was captured exactly.”
Casey works from photographs, sometimes combining people, animals, or locations together into one scene.
The zoo recently commissioned Casey to paint a portrait for Byron J. Gambulos, upon his retirement from the Zoological Trust. Gambulos and his wife, Patricia, had their first date at the zoo in the 1940s. Using an early photograph of 1940s visitors and the zoo’s original entrance, Casey recreated that special moment on canvas.
Casey has worked as a graphic artist at the zoo for 14 years. He really enjoys creating two and three dimensional artwork. Right now he’s carving a new sign for the Dan Moran Aviary out of a sign material that looks like wood.
“When I’m doing animal art, I take a lot of research photos at the zoo, looking to see how an animal has its head or body positioned.”
He nearly went to college to train as a park ranger, until a counselor talked him into going to art school instead. Now, Casey’s wildlife illustrations of turkey, deer and bears are published in many sportsman magazines.
“I grew up in the woods and on the lake,” Casey said, “but I can’t get outside or go fishing as much anymore, so drawing nature gives me a chance to connect with nature.”
(Note: This is a longer version of the text, as seen first in ZooSounds Summer 2013, printed with permission)
What do a polar bear, the 1903 World’s Fair, Jack Benny and Bugs Bunny have to do wtih the Oklahoma City Zoo? Carmichael! This beloved zoo bear had a curious past that spanned 100 years! (Article printed with permission) ~Amy
Carmichael the Polar Bear By Amy Dee Stephens
Many Oklahoma City Zoo visitors fondly remember Carmichael the Polar Bear, but few realize that his story goes back over 100 years!
Carmichael’s history is filled with mystery and inconsistency. Only one thing is clear about the zoo’s polar bears–several different Carmichaels lived at the zoo. Beyond that, records are conflicting.
According to newspaper articles, the zoo’s first polar bear was over 40-years-old when he arrived in 1939. Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, the original owner of the dancing polar bear, sent Carmichael to America for the 1903 St. Louis World’s Fair.
He was living at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in 1939 when Oklahoma City traded two yaks for Carmichael. During his entire truck-ride from Colorado, the polar bear growled, raged and pawed the floor. He had reputation for being dangerous and difficult.
Carmichael’s name was a result of popular culture. His original name was Court of Rome, named after his birthplace. A newspaper reporter introduced Oklahomans to the zoo’s first polar bear using the nickname “Carmichael,” because Jack Benny, a popular comedian, had a “pet” polar bear named Carmichael on his radio show. (Mel Blanc, the famous voice of Bugs Bunny, was also the voice of Carmichael).
In 1951, the zoo decided to replace the aged bear, who would have been an unbelievable sixty-years-old. A polar bear’s average lifespan is 35 years, so another polar bear named Carmichael may have lived at the zoo sometime during this period. Shortly after trading him, a one-year-old polar bear cub moved into Carmichael’s quarters. The public called him Carmichael, so the name stuck for a second (or maybe third) generation of polar bears.
This final Carmichael is perhaps best remembered by Oklahomans as the bear who paced. People felt sorry him during the unbearably hot summers (during a time prior to expensive chilled habitats). Zoo philosophy toward animal welfare had also changed, and everyone agreed that Oklahoma was not the best climate for a polar bear. With both relief and sadness, zoo officials relocated Carmichael to another zoo on a breeding loan in 1969.
Although the zoo has been without polar bears for over 40 years—Carmichael’s name is mentioned nearly every day by zoo visitors who remembered him fondly.
Curious where Carmichael used to live in the zoo? If you stand by the carousel and look toward the Herpetarium, you will see the curved bars along the back of that building where he and his predecessor(s) once lived. The ZooZeum also displays part of his old cage, which dates back to 1907. The rock grotto and moat (seen in the postcard) is likely the currently location of the Leaping Lizard ride.
I was surprised and honored when the zoo awarded me as Employee of the Year. Four lovely people wrote nominations: Todd Bridgewater, Tara Henson, Teresa Randall and Candice Rennels. I cherish each of them and will always be grateful.
With permission, I’ve included Todd’s nicely-written nomination, followed by the zoo press release.
Amy Stephens’ enthusiasm and passion the Oklahoma City Zoo’s history is nothing short of contagious. Her research connects the zoo’s growth to significant events in our community. It covers everything from animal behavior and husbandry, construction and exhibit design, civil rights and political figures, community and culture, and two once forgotten beer-drinking monkeys.
In the beginning…
Even though it was beyond her scope of duties, Amy dedicated the past 8 years to salvaging and archiving 108 years of zoo history. She first excavated the Daily Oklahoman archives for stories of Wheeler Park and the Lincoln Park Zoo. This yielded enough material to fill twelve D-ring binders and publish two books: Oklahoma City Zoo Now and Then and Oklahoma City Zoo: 1902-1959.
Additional articles further revealed her gifts as a talented writer and story-teller. She imparted the significance of our zoo’s history to the community, state and the global profession by respectively publishing articles for ZooSounds, Distinctly Oklahoma and NAI’s Legacy Magazine. In short, these publications became stepping stones to sharing the Zoo’s rich, and often humorous culture, in person.
She inspired others…
Amy presented many programs to community groups (i.e., Rotary, Edmond Newcomers Club, Daughters of the American Revolution, Red Hat Ladies, Ladies Auxiliary, etc.) about the zoo’s first 50 years. Several of these occurred on her personal time; however each benefitted the zoo. Her presentations increased our community’s awareness of, interest in and donations toward the overarching goal of creating a formal zoo museum. Note – it is extremely difficult to measure the effect of a specific program on someone’s attitude. In this case, one only needs to look at the zoo’s archive collection. Its growth is a direct reflection of her personal commitment and activism in saving zoo history. Current and past employees, as well as public citizens, donated numerous personal and historical affects producing a unique and diversified collection (i.e, articles, postcards, video, slides, t-shirts, artifact, etc.). Sixteen individuals even contributed their life stories through a recording project with the Metropolitan Library System. Volunteers have spent more than 800 hours cataloging over 6,000 items, with more waiting to be processed.
To create something new from something old…
Opening a museum requires vision, creativity and an ability to communicate both with clarity. Amy’s management style ensured that everyone stayed informed and involved. By working with multiple zoo departments, she guided a renovation process that turned a 4,000 sq. ft. dilapidated building into a beautiful exhibit space. Appropriately named the ZooZeum, the building features two exhibit galleries with museum quality cases, oversized graphic panels, multimedia presentation platforms and more. Her attention to detail not only included aesthetics, but extended to infrastructure too. Amy began researching and developing an archival storage system from scratch, which is now accredited by the American Association of Museums.
So it can be shared with everyone…
After the ZooZeum opened, Amy’s work shifted from individual stories to envelope the site itself. She created two to behind-the-scenes programs and organized five on-site special events. She also presented the ZooZeum at three conferences, including an international on-line audience, and three podcasts. Each program, event, conference and podcast succeeded in achieving zoo education’s primary mission – connecting our guests with zoo resources. At a recent meeting in Saint Paul, the education staff from the Lincoln Park Zoo raved about Amy’s ZooZeum presentation – from three months ago! They have spoken with her since, are still in awe and clamoring to do the same at their site.
For the purpose of giving back…
As far as we know, there is no other zoo exhibit like the Patricia and Byron J. Gambulos ZooZeum. It is unique and one-of-a-kind. It is also interesting to think how saving an organization’s history can be viewed as a progressive step forward. Amy Stephens not only guided that process, she inspired others to join in the vision, to donate their personal affects, to give their time, and to become stewards of their own resources. The ZooZeum presents memorable stories of our organization’s growth within the context of our community’s history. She answers to the unofficial title of Zoo Librarian, but perhaps a more fitting one is Zoo Historian. We should honor Amy Stephens’ passion and commitment to the Oklahoma City Zoo by recognizing her as Employee of the Year.
OKLAHOMA CITY ZOO NAMES 2011 EMPLOYEE OF THE YEAR
(Press Release) The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden proudly announces Amy Stephens, Naturalist Instructor Supervisor as the 2011 Ralph D. Harris Employee of the Year. The Employee of the Year award is selected each year by the Zoo’s Employee Recognition Committee and management staff.
A member of the Zoo’s Education team since 1998, Amy teaches a variety of programs throughout the year in addition to supervising the department’s part time birthday party, snooze and camp staff members and overseeing the Zoo’s collection of historical artifacts.
Amy was the sole impetus behind saving the historical building that is now the Patricia and Bryon J. Gambulos ZooZeum. Through her passion and motivation to preserve the Zoo’s history for generations to come the foundation for the ZooZeum came to life when it opened last spring. For nearly a decade Amy gathered historical information, objects and oral histories about the Zoo. This past November her effort to bring Gayla Peevey to the Zoo for the debut of the “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas” ZooZeum exhibit resulted in providing a special holiday event for the community and creating another unforgettable moment in the Zoo’s history.
“Amy is a true asset to our team,” said Dwight Scott, Zoo Executive Director/CEO. “She is extremely self-motivated and approaches all projects with heartfelt enthusiasm and a positive outlook. Amy is 100% focused on doing the best job possible for the Zoo, her peers and our patrons.”
Amy brings many of her personal passions to her job. She supports animal welfare and co-developed the Zoo’s internal certification program for animal training and its curriculum. An advocate of life-long learning, Amy shares this passion with staff and volunteers by maintaining the Zoo’s library. Working closely with staff she keeps the library’s collection current allowing them access to information on present zoo practices and research. She is also an engaging speaker and often speaks in public forums about the Zoo.
Aside from her Zoo duties, Amy is an award-winning author. Her book “Oklahoma City Zoo: 1902-1959” (c2006 Arcadia Publishing) was awarded as an Outstanding Publication by the Oklahoma Museum Association. She also maintains membership in with the National Association for Interpretation and the Oklahoma Museum Association. Amy earned a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education from Oklahoma Christian University and a master’s degree in Instructional Media from the University of Central Oklahoma. She and her husband Mike reside in Edmond, Oklahoma.
Amy Stephen’s job profile is featured on the Association of Zoos and Aquarium (AZA) Explore blog http://wildexplorer.org/
Baby Siri had a rough start to life; malnourished and missing one arm. She is now thriving. I was fortunate to photograph Siri on the last day of her hand-raising. This article is republished, with permission, from ZooSounds, Winter 2011. ~Amy
Siri the Survivor
By Amy Dee Stephens
The scene at Sunset Zoo went something like this:
“Congratulations, she’s a healthy.”
“Whew,” responded the primate staff.
“Whew” because they only realized that the mother chimpanzee was pregnant about 6-weeks before delivery. This was not a faulty oversight…it was shock! No one dreamed the 56-year-old female was still of child-bearing age.
The mother was very attentive, protective and nursed regularly. But seven months later, it was clear that something was wrong. Siri was still tiny. Testing revealed that the mother’s milk lacked the nutrients of a younger female, and Siri was starving.
After diet modifications failed, Sunset Zoo asked the Chimpanzee Species Survival Plan for help. Oklahoma City Zoo was selected as the facility equipped to accommodate Siri’s needs. Just two years ago, the Great EscApe team successfully hand-raised and introduced baby Zoe to their troop.
“We are building our reputation as a surrogate facility,” said Robin Newby, Great Escape keeper. “Chimp dynamics can be difficult, but our troop already proved that they can accept a baby.”
When Siri arrived inOklahoma City, she was 8-months-old and just 3 ½ pounds. Genetic tests, donated by Harvard, revealed the surprising news that other than malnutrition and lack of muscle mass, her organs were working fine and she had no mental disabilities.
For the next four months, Siri had 24-hour care. Staff and volunteers initially had one focus—feed that baby!
It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. Siri had no interest in food; staff described it as an aversion to eating. A feeding tube helped her get calories, but the challenge was to teach Siri how to feed herself.
“She didn’t know why she had no interest in food,” said Newby. “We made ‘happy food vocals.’ It’s like a high-pitched hoot that chimps make when they’re eating. We did that and ate lots of fruit in front of her, trying to get her excited about food. That’s how she finally learned what ‘hungry’ meant.”
To complicate matters more, a troop member unintentionally injured Siri. Siri reached toward a chimp through a 2-inch gap in the mesh that separated her from the adult chimps. A female grabbed Siri’s arm and it detached at the elbow.
“Siri had no muscle mass,” said Newby. “A normal infant wouldn’t have been seriously injured, but this baby was too malnourished. Siri’s a fighter. She survived the injury and just got stronger.”
As Siri’s strength improved, the staff began physical therapy to help her overcome her missing forearm. Climbing on a jungle gym made of PVC pipe and ropes helped Siri build muscles, balance, and learn to rely more on her feet.
Teaching Siri independence proved to be the hardest feat for staff, however.
“In the wild, baby chimps are never put on the ground or left alone, but a surrogate mother would not hold her all the time. Siri needed to be okay with being on own her own sometimes,” said Newby. “We started walking away from her some during our daily routine; and she didn’t appreciate it. We had to use tough love, because it was hard to hear her whimpering for us, but we knew this was what she needed to become the best chimp she could be.”
When it was time for Siri to meet her new chimp family, staff again had to practice tough love. Introducing chimps is risky in a regular situation, but trusting tiny Siri with an adult was nerve-racking for the staff. Fortunately, they knew the troop well enough to have several backup plans.
Chimp introductions begin with one member at a time. If all goes well, the two chimps spend time together to build up trust, and then another chimp is added into the mix.
The primate staff had three female chimps in mind who might make a good surrogate mother for Siri. Introductions to Cindy and Abby went fine, but neither seemed to show interest in nurturing an infant. The third female, Kito, went right over to comfort Siri. Newby said she had “the baby instinct.” Ironically, Kito was the very female who injured Siri’s arm in an effort to reach her through the window.
Since then, other troop members, including Mwami, the dominant male, have met Siri. Despite some of the usual “family politics,” the introductions have gone well and eventually all eight chimps will be on exhibit together.
Zoe and Siri play so actively together that most people don’t even notice Siri’s missing limb. Three times each day, Siri drinks a bottle of infant formula through a customized mesh hole at the building. She is never expected to be large chimp because of her early nutritional delay, but staff are proud to say that she is independent, playful and acting like a normal chimp.
“Working with animals is a lot about psychology,” said Newby. “We have to be very in tune with our animals, and anticipate what their reactions might be to a situation. We felt confident that Siri would blend well with our troop and that the chimps would help her adjust.”
Baby tigers–four of them–are active new residents at the Oklahoma City Zoo. This article, reprinted with permission, shares the story of their birth and “toddler” stage. ~Amy
The Wonderful Thing About Tigers
Four frolicking balls of fur exploded onto the scene of CatForestthis fall. Tiger cubs, Leonidus, Leeloo, Lola and Lucy pounce, roll, stretch, and explore…providing visitors an action-packed experience.
But the scene was quite different when these four cubs entered the world. Calm and peaceful best describe their first days.
New Momma Tiger
“About ten days before we expected the mother, Suriya, to deliver, we moved her indoors to a special birthing stall,” said Jonathan Reding, Cat Forest/Lion Overlook Supervisor.
The birthing stall is in a quiet corridor away from the main flow of traffic. Keepers put burlap around the room so that Suriya would have complete privacy, except, that is, for a surveillance camera monitoring her every move.
The goal for this first-time mom was to allow her to rely on her natural birthing behaviors, without human aid, unless necessary.
Tigers have a track record of being difficult to breed. For three years, the keepers kept diligent records in an attempt to pair Suriya with the male, Raguna. Timing was crucial since the rare, week-long window of opportunity only comes once every three months.
As part of the Tiger Species Survival Plan (SSP), the zoo had already determined a birth plan based on research and input from other professionals. Oklahoma City Zoo had another point in its favor—a staff with over five years experience at successfully breeding other cat species such as lions and snow leopards.
On the morning of July 9th, a pleasant sight greeted the cat keepers. Camera monitors showed Suriya interacting with two cubs. She exhibited good mothering skills: licking, cleaning, nursing. All was well, so the staff followed their plan to stay away.
What a surprise when a third cub arrived an hour later. And then a fourth another hour after that!
“It’s rare for tigers to have four cubs; most have two or three,” said Reding. “What’s even more rare is that all four survived.”
These four tigers are an incredible contribution to the tiger species. Only 250 are left in the wild, and 66 live in accredited zoos. Now, the zoo population is up to 71!
Fortunately, Suriya exhibited such good mothering skills that the keepers avoided all interactions with her and the cubs for over a week. Then, the noise of daily routine was added back in, and eventually the burlap was removed.
“Suriya has a strong preference for female keepers,” said Erin Holman, Cat Keeper. “I’m the only full-time female on the cat staff, so I started going back into the hallway to perform cleaning routines.”
After ten days, Holman offered Suriya food in a nearby stall, and the tiger followed her trained routine. She voluntarily shifted next door, allowing a gate to be closed between herself and her cubs.
“We had worried about that, because she does things on her own terms, but she shifted with no problem,” said Reding. “It shows her trust level with the staff.”
Into the Public Eye
Veterinarians were able to do a well-baby check and take the newborns’ first weights, which were between four and five pounds. Since the cubs continued to do well after several months, the staff began preparations for the tigers to go on exhibit for the public by early fall.
“First, we had to let it cool down outside,” said Reding. “We also needed to make sure the cubs were big enough to move safely in the yard without injuring themselves on logs or drop offs.”
The first few days in the outdoor yard, the cubs jumped at every odd noise or visitor calling to them. Now, the four-month-old cubs are immune to zoo traffic. They perch confidently on their favorite overlook, keeping an instinctive eye out for prey as they pounce, roll, stretch and explore.
Then, it’s time for a cat nap.
“It’s play, play, play, but they are still babies, so they need lots of sleep,” said Reding.
According to Holman, the cubs’ most active period is in the morning between 9:00 and 10:30. Each tiger has a unique stripe pattern, but to visitors, their personalities are the most obvious thing about them.
Leonidus, the only male, is very laid back and gentle. He takes after his father and is expected to be a very large male. Leeloo is Leonidus’ running buddy. She is feisty and plays hard. Lucy has her mother’s personality, cautious and defensive. Lola is cautious at first, but then becomes adventurous.
What is in the future for these tigers? The cubs will likely remain at the zoo for two years until the Tiger SSP decides where they should be dispersed. Since Raguno and Suriya’s genetics are well represented, Raguno will eventually leave to breed at another facility.
“For our staff, the tigers were our most anticipated birth in five years,” said Reding. “They are critically endangered, they are a key species for zoos, and everyone loves them.”
And that’s the wonderful thing about tigers.
The Oklahoma City Zoo experienced a birth in April 2011–a baby elephant named Malee. I can’t help but smile every time I see her and neither can zoo visitors. Here is an article I wrote about her first few months, reprinted by permission. ~Amy
Baby Elephant “Firsts”
Not only is Malee the zoo’s first baby elephant–everyone agrees that she is the cutest baby ever!
The entire community claims her. Zoo attendance was nearly 150,000 over the former record for the past fiscal year. Thousands of people will whip out their cell phone to show you her pictures. Oklahoma is ga-ga about Malee.
Oh, and she’s a smart baby, too. Just see what all she’s learned in just a few months…
The healthy baby girl was born on April 15, 2011, with the lungs to prove it. Human babies cry at birth, but keepers were stunned at how vocal Malee was—and how loud! She roared louder than her mom, Asha.
Malee doesn’t have her trumpeting down yet, but she’s trying. Right now, it’s more of a squeak. But when she’s frustrated, she still bellows and roars.
Malee definitely likes things done her way. The keepers say it’s hard to define her personality yet, but she might be a little headstrong. As a newborn, she didn’t want the keepers help—she wanted to get to Mom on her own, clumsy or not.
Malee went outside when she was 2-weeks-old. Up until then, she’d stayed right next to Asha, but then she got caught up in the moment when Chandra, anxious to get outside, rushed on ahead. Malee went charging out with her Aunt before she realized that Mom had lagged behind.
Now, Malee is exploring more. She ventures off, but Mom and Aunt are always watching. They correct her and keep her in line by gently pushing her with their trunk or feet. Some people think that Chandra is rough with the baby, but the keepers see that Chandra is a very protective playmate. She often rushes over to check on Malee if she senses trouble.
First Trunk Use
At first, baby Malee wasn’t sure what to do with that trunk hanging on her face. She did use it to feel of her feet and a log on the first day, but it mostly flopped around.
Now she’s trying to mimic the adults, who use their trunks to eat or give themselves dust baths. Keepers remember the day Malee managed to hold a piece of lettuce with her trunk. She started running around, waving it like a flag. Success!
At 3-months, Malee could grip grass and put a grape in her mouth—even though it fell back out. She is now eating some solid foods, but will continue to nurse almost 2 years.
Malee loves water. From day one, she enjoyed getting hosed off or having water squirted into her mouth. She stood on a rubber bath mat alone, but seemed reluctant to get into the blue and white inflatable pool, a gift from the Kirkpatrick Foundation. The keepers admit to crawling into the pool and splashing around, showing Malee what to do–to no avail.
Finally, on a day when Malee was acting particularly brave, staff scooted the deflated pool closer and closer to the rubber mat, until Malee was standing on it without realizing it. The next day, she went right into the pool—and that’s the well-received YouTube video of Malee’s first tub bath (available at okczoo.com)
The water level in the outside pool has been slowly raised so that Malee can safely learn to swim. In mid-July, when the pool was at 4 ½ feet, Malee went completely underwater, kicked her feet, and popped back above water—her first swim.
Malee will soon begin her formal training. She needs to learn her name and respond to cues. Malee already goes into her own stall for her bath—a nice step toward separating the elephants for individualized training. She is also comfortable with the keepers rubbing her skin and touching her, which is useful in doing health exams.
A First for the Keepers, Too
Watching young Malee has been a treat for the keepers, who did much training and preparation to raise their first baby elephant. They view Malee as a member of their family and enjoy watching her grow and learn. The compare it to watching their own children grow up–except everything happens much more quickly with baby elephants than with humans!
If you haven’t come to visit baby Malee yet, it’s not too late. Many “firsts” are still to come as she continues to learn. Maybe you will witness her first dust bath, or trumpet, or deep-water swim.
If you do miss out—don’t worry. Plenty of Oklahomans will share their stories, pictures and videos with you. After all, Malee is the smartest, cutest, best-loved baby elephant Oklahomans have ever seen!
Special thanks for information provided by the elephant staff: Nick Newby, Toni Rife, and Dorothy Forman.