Kentucky Life’s Doug Flynn visited the Cincinnati Zoo for a look at several of the zoo’s new baby animals, including cheetahs, penguins, gorillas, and more.
Thane Maynard, zoo director, said the Cincinnati Zoo is famous for its conservation work with big cats. The zoo has a breeding farm about 25 miles from the zoo. Over 50 cheetahs have been born at the farm.
Five baby cheetahs were being hand-raised for the zoo’s cat ambassador program. “They’re going to visit the schools,” Maynard said. “We are the only place that takes cheetahs out on a leash like that.”
While the cheetahs are growing up, they enjoy the company of a companion dog, Blakely, who acts as a surrogate parent, explained nursery volunteer Jan Deitrich. “He is the warm furry body that their mother would have been,” she said.
Blakely is placed on a down-stay command and the baby cheetahs are placed around him. “They can feel his heartbeat and the warmth of his body and his hair– it just makes them feel safe,” she explained. “And then the bigger they get and the more mobile they are, he changes his job description and becomes more of the playmate-littermate.”
Blakely has been a companion to a number of babies, from cheetahs to skunks to ocelots to warthogs to takins.
Dale the baby takin is the favorite zoo baby of Angela Hatke, communications coordinator at the Cincinnati Zoo. Takins, native to the Himalayas, look like a cross between a goat and an antelope.
Paul Reinhart, the team leader of Wildlife Canyon at the zoo, said Dale’s mother, Sally, did not have good mothering skills when Dale was born, “so we ended up hand raising him in the zoo’s nursery. He lived with a companion. Then when Dale was about four months old, he came back down to us here at Wildlife Canyon, and we were able to reintroduce him to his mother.”
Takins are good at climbing, and they do well at the zoo, Reinhart said. “This is an animal you can see out every day of the year,” he said.
Little Penguins are warm-weather penguins native to Australia and New Zealand. The Cincinnati Zoo has 35 Little Penguins, the largest colony in the United States, said Jenny Gainer, aviculture head keeper.
“When they are hatched out they are about 40 grams, [about 1 1/2 ounces]” she said. “They are full grown at one month. So they grow really fast. Then at two months old, they are fledglings, so they lose their down feathers and then they’re on their own.”
The zoo is among the top reproducers of gorillas in the world. “We really do specialize in primates here, especially the great apes,” said primate curator Ron Evans. “Just last year we had our 50th gorilla born here at the Cincinnati Zoo.”
Sometimes the zoo takes in gorillas born elsewhere. Gladys, a 3-year-old gorilla, was born at a zoo in Texas. “Unfortunately her mother didn’t take care of her. Sometimes that happens, just like people,” said Evans. “And we know that it’s so critically important to get baby gorillas back in with other gorillas as young as we possibly can. Because the day a gorilla is born, they don’t know anything.’’
The Cincinnati Zoo offered to take Gladys and find her a surrogate mother. They began by putting together a team of 10-15 human surrogates to work around the clock with Gladys. She was paired with a gorilla surrogate when she was 4 ½ months old. “She’s been accepted by all the other gorillas,” Evans said. “And now she’s three years old thriving.”
A visit to the zoo’s bonobos finds a lively, social bunch. “They’re our closest living relatives,” Evans said. “Very little separates us from the bonobo —- next to humans, they’re the most intelligent animal on the planet.”
The 10th bonobo was born last year and named Bolingo. “After about the first year they start stretching out a little bit; mom starts trusting them a little bit to venture out,” he said, as Bolingo climbed high in his habitat enclosure. “That’s about as far as I’ve seen little Bo away from him mom right there,” he said.
The bonobo is a critically endangered species of great ape, Evans said, very rare in zoos. “The Cincinnati Zoo is all about doing their part to help them out,” he said.