Archive for March, 2009

Mesker Park Zoo and Botanic Garden is one of the few institutions in the United States to exhibit sitatunga antelope. Even among zoos that have these animals, there are very few males in the population. The Zoo received a male sitatunga from the Maryland Zoo around two years ago. Unfortunately he passed away in fall 2008 after an illness, but not before leaving behind something very special… babies! Two females and one male were born in late August 2008 and then another female was born just last week.

Sitatunga are native to Central Africa. They have specialized hooves to allow them to live in swampy terrain. Females are orange with white stripes and blotches. Males are dark brown with thick slightly spiraled horns. The newborn baby spends a lot of time hidden in the grass, but tends to be more visible in late afternoon. The older babies are about half the size of the adults and no longer hide.


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Pico: I am here in the Discovery Center again looking for someone else to admire me, er, interview. HEY YOU! What’s your name and what do you do?

Becky: My name is Becky and I’m the Marketing Assistant. I’ve worked at the Zoo for seven years in various positions. Currently I design logos and brochures. I develop advertising and help with the newsletter. I’m also the person who created the Zoo’s website.

Pico: *gasp* Does that mean…

Becky: Yes, I created the Pico artwork.

Pico: You did an excellent job of capturing my winsomeness. They should give you a raise. And change your title to Toucan Assistant. You can spend all day following me around making clever drawings of my clever antics.

Becky: Well…

Pico: Okay it’s settled. You can start tomorrow. I get up as soon as it’s light out. I don’t drink coffee, but I do drink tea to help with my iron storage. I also like a nice fruit platter. Don’t give any to the squirrel monkeys. They have their own assistants. I think you should try drawing me with my mouth open because people say that I talk a lot. But please don’t draw me with any hats on… or facial hair… because toucans have feathers… What were we talking about?

Becky: You were asking me what I do outside of work.

Puck doesn't know her owner prefers otters.

Puck doesn't know her owner prefers otters.



Pico: Yes, tell me.

Becky: I enjoy gardening and camping. I ride a motorcycle. I am really into herbal and homeopathic remedies. I am really interested in animal nutrition, so I make my own dog food for my two Australian cattle dogs Puck and Druid.

Pico: And who is your favorite animal at the Zoo?

Becky: My favorites are the otters.

Pico: That is not the answer my assistant should give. I’m going to have to let you go.

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The female otters visited the vet this week. Just like people, animals should have annual check-ups to monitor their health. The keepers got them into crates and brought them down to the vet building. The veterinarian anesthitized the otters with isofluorane gas. Then blood was drawn, hearts were listened to, abdomens were palpated, body condition was checked, vaccines were injected, teeth were cleaned, and x-rays were taken. They recovered quickly and were back on exhibit that afternoon.

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There are always new things to see at the Zoo! In AMAZONIA the Colombian bamboo has started its characteristic drape by the waterfall. It grows down instead of up! Two young two-toed sloths are now on exhibit with the prehensile-tailed porcupines. The female especially enjoys interacting with her keepers.

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Pico has a crush on a keeper. I saw her recently when she came up to AMAZONIA to put the animals to bed for the night. I asked my friend Rojo if he knew her and he said her name was Jill. I asked him to find out more about her.

Pico: Jill. Jiiiiiilllll. That rolls off a toucan’s tongue nicely.

Jill: Um, thank you?

Pico: What do you do here at the Zoo?

Jill: Currently I work with the large mammals, hoofstock, and big cats.

Pico: I asked around about you. What have been some of your favorite experiences in the 14 years you’ve worked here?

Jill: Wow, who have you been talking to? I really enjoyed working with our Indian rhino Jordie who unfortunately passed away last year. About 10 years ago, the Zoo was loaned a pair of white tiger cubs for the summer. They were about 3 months old when they arrived. Keepers would exercise them on grounds after closing. That was really fun.

Jill and Jordie, DENNY SIMMONS / Courier & Press

Jill and Jordie, DENNY SIMMONS / Courier & Press

Pico: Who are your current favorite animals?

Jill: Donna the hippo and Clarence the mini-horse.

Pico: I know you would say me if you’d had the chance to get to know me. Have you ever worked with a toucan?

Jill: I graduated with a BS in Animal Science from Purdue. While going to college, I did an internship at the Indianapolis Zoo. I worked with a toco toucan who could catch grapes out of the air. I thought that was pretty cool.

Pico: Yes, we toucans are a talented group. Do you have any animals at home?

Jill: I have three cats, a black lab named Kricket, a saddlebred named Jama, and a mini-donkey named Taco.

Pico: I know outside of work you enjoy working in your garden. Also, I heard you’ve taken trips to Peru and Mexico recently. Where do you plan to travel next?

Jill: Hopefully southeast Asia.

Pico: Can I come with you?

Jill: Actually I was hoping you could introduce me to the toucan from George of the Jungle. He’s really cute and funny.

Pico: Noooo!

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Pico was meandering around the Africa Panorama recently when I realized I was being followed by a large black shape. That shape had astonishing eyelashes and a very large bill. He told me his name was Carl and that he was an Abyssinian ground hornbill. Abyssinian ground hornbills are found in the open savanna of Africa, south of the Saharan Desert but north of the equator. They get their name from their large bill, or casque. Carl’s looked like it was broken on the end, but he said that is how all members of his species look. Ground hornbills spend most of their time walking and only fly when they feel threatened.

Carl is really cool. He loves interacting with people (and toucans). He picks up toys or leaves from his exhibit and carries them around or presents them to his keepers. He is currently being trained to recycle and will eagerly pick up bottles, cans, and cardboard boxes in exchange for a tasty cricket or mealworm… which he can catch out of the air! Carl’s other favorite foods are fish and mice. In the wild hornbills eat small mammals, lizards, carrion, seeds, and fruit. He is very curious and enjoys pounding on things with his bill or investigating buckets, barrels, and the occasional pumpkin. To get keepers’ attention, he will tap them lightly and rapidly with his bill.

Carl weighs just under 10 pounds and is 17 years old. Wild hornbills can live to be 40. Males have red skin on their throat while females have blue. They are not endangered in the wild, but certain populations are threatened locally.

Carl is so cool!

Carl is really cool!

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the barasingha male says "watch my antlers grow!"

Pico’s newest pals are so shy and easy to miss that it’s hard to believe they each weigh close to 400 pounds… and then multiply that times the seven animals in the herd… and that equals 2800 Picos (1 Pico the Toucan = 1 pound)! How can you miss 2800 toucans?

Okay, the barasingha deer that live in the Zoo’s Asia Valley are not quite as brightly colored as me. The coats of these large deer range from orange to medium brown. Males are typically darker than females. They are native to India where, in one of the local languages, their name translates to 12 tines. Tines are the points of a deer’s antlers. They can actually have up to 15 points! Right now the three males are still regrowing their antlers from their earlier annual shed.

The Zoo’s barasingha eat alfalfa and pellets. For treats they enjoy carrots, sweet potato, and primate biscuits. They will sometimes startle visitors, staff, and toucans by vocalizing back and forth with the nearby muntjacs and axis deer.

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