Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Welcome Back, Inukshuk!

Inukshuk patrolling familiar ground
Yesterday I headed to the Zoo again, this time to attend a class on how to use the AEDs (Automated External Difibrillators) on site. It was a very short class, running from only 9:30 to 10:30—at which point the Tuesday Volunteers practically ran us over trying to set up the room for their pot luck lunch, but that's another story—so once it was over I had plenty of time to take advantage of the mild temperatures and occasional brilliant sunshine and walk around a little bit. I was especially interested in making my way to the Tundra Trek and specifically the polar bear exhibit, because last Thursday night—just in time for the "big storm"—an old friend returned: Inukshuk, father of Hudson. He's been off in Cochrane at their Polar Bear Habitat since last October (because Aurora was pregnant with three cubs that, sadly, didn't survive) and will be returning there at the end of March. He's back here purely for "stud duties"; a pretty good gig if you can get it! The keepers have their fingers crossed that he might actually "hit the jackpot" with both of the sister bears currently at the Toronto Zoo, Aurora and Nikita, the latter of whom has never been pregnant. It would be pretty special indeed to have more than one "Hudson" roaming around come the fall, but a lot has to go right for that to happen. Inukshuk won't really care either way: his job is done once he gets back on the plane for Cochrane.

He looks like he needs a head skritch
I went to see the polar bears with a couple of other trainees who had been at the presentation as well. When we got to the exhibit we first saw Nikita in the small enclosure on the eastern side. We watched her prowl around the snow for a couple of minutes and then some movement from the main holding area caught our eyes and we saw another bear coming toward the window from across the ice and snow. Long before he got right up to the glass we could tell it was Inukshuk from his colour and size; however, that size was still shocking once we came face-to-face with him. I had completely forgotten just how huge Inukshuk really is (having gotten used to the still-cublike dimensions of Hudson in that same window); the photo here really doesn't do his enormity justice. He came and went from the ledge by the window several times, clearly interacting with all of us who were standing there, putting on a little bit of a show. At one point he reared up on his hind legs and put his forepaws on the glass; it was so unexpected that I couldn't get a good shot of it but it won't soon be forgotten by those of us standing just the width of that pane of glass away from his huge head and limbs. He is a breathtakingly beautiful animal—I mean, they all are but he is just gorgeous—and his translucent fur reflects a much whiter light than either of the two sisters who inhabit the exhibit with him. Both Nikita and Aurora seem to give off a more yellowish tinge for whatever reason; Inukshuk becomes practically invisible when his backdrop is pure snow and not water or ice. He's also amazingly surefooted, especially since we've gotten used to watching Hudson go to great lengths to completely avoid having to walk on any ice whatsoever.

Here are a few more shots of Inukshuk; you never know how many more I'll be able to get in the short time he's here:

On the prowl
Enjoying the sun

These look like Diego Rivera feet
Thinking about lunch?

Puffed up and ready to defend his nest
When I posted my spectacled owl presentation piece here I didn't have any good pictures of the ones at the Zoo. Yesterday, though, the male was sitting in much better lighting conditions (the female is, I believe, nesting in a hollow trunk in the exhibit) so I manged to capture his beauty. For the first couple of shots I took he was very calm and he even had his eyes closed at first. But a very noisy school tour approached his home from behind me and this greatly interested him: he stared intently at them across my head and puffed up all of his chest feathers so much that he appeared to gain about 50% in volume. It was remarkable to watch. In this picture he is on full alert, ready to do whatever it takes to defend his mate. He looked absolutely glorious.

I went to the Indian Rhino pavilion again to drop in on Ashakiran but my timing was quite bad. Not only did I just miss her (the keepers were doing a changeover of the animals in the main part of the exhibit) but I also caught just the tail end of the tapir as it left the viewing area. That was particularly disappointing as, for some reason, I have not seen the tapir on exhibit since back in the summer. In any event, Vishnu came out to "replace" Asha, so I took some pictures of his grand entrance:

Kemala grooming her toy
I also walked up the boardwalk a short distance so I could drop in on the Sumatran tigers. Harry was in his heated cave on the west side of the path and looked to be sound asleep, so I went a little farther up the hill to see Kemala, recently brought in from Fort Wayne to, hopefully, breed sometime this year. She was similarly in her cave/den, but was studiously grooming her paws and didn't appear to be sleepy in any way. I watched her for a short time before the sun came bursting out from behind a cloud; this was her cue to get up and give an incredibly-satisfying-looking stretch with her back end high in the air (like any domestic cat would do) followed by a couple of moments of claw-scratching on the wooden piece at the front of her cave. Then she came out and started to prowl around her territory, occasionally emitting a low grunt as she walked. I thought she was getting ready for feeding time, but after a while it became apparent that she was trying to get Harry's attention. It didn't work for quite some time (I kept going over to the other side of the enclosure to check) so Kemala satisfied herself by racing around a bit and playing with the drum and giant ball in her area. In the picture above she appears to be grooming the drum, but I think this was still to get Harry's attention. For one thing, it had been quite a distance away, near the entrance to her enclosure, but she had pounced on it, locked her powerful jaws around it and dragged it about twenty feet to a spot where it (and she) could be seen from Harry's pen. I took several short videos of her, hoping to not only catch her "calling" but also dashing around; the fourth time was the charm:

Her sound went right through me while I was standing there. It was spectacular to watch her dashing around right beneath me, too.

This Friday, weather permitting, is our last official class. Then it's on to more shadowing and just putting in the hours before I am a full-fledged Zoo Volunteer. Maybe then I'll post less often about the Zoo here and on Facebook: I've noticed that my animal posts in both places have become my least-viewed (I linked to the above video on Facebook and it has received one view so far) so clearly everyone's enthusiasm is waning.

Yeah, like that will stop me. Ha!

And just wait until the penguin chicks are on display. You have been warned.


  1. Beautiful photos, as always! I particularly like the polar bear shots.

    1. Thanks, Sar! I like them, too, but they really don't do justice to his size. Inukshuk is huge!


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