Thursday, February 7, 2013

Zoo Presentation and New Pictures

Spectacled owl pair at the Zoo (a bit fuzzy due to the low light)
My triple-decker presentation day was last Friday. I followed the three scripts I posted on this blog pretty closely, but I ran out of time and was "cut off" long before I could finish my talk about the owls or tie it all together at the end. This was pretty frustrating, especially since: 1) I was the only one this happened to, even though others in my group ran over their time limits; and 2) the other two groups had quite a bit more time allotted to them to get through their three animals. Luck of the draw, I guess, but a bit annoying. In any event, the prairie dogs were still "off exhibit", but that gave me more time to talk about the signage at the Zoo. (Unfortunately, the trainee who was supposed to talk about the black-footed ferrets immediately before me was absent which meant I had to touch on those animals briefly as well in my prairie dog talk.) Only one of the two spectacled owls (the male) was visible, too; I learned later that the female is brooding at the moment in a hollow trunk in the exhibit. But the wonderful octopus put on an amazing show for us: she was up in the corner of the tank when she noticed the whole clutch of people standing there, so she came down and pranced around in front of us for a while, sizing everyone up with her eyes and showing off her underbelly. It was pretty obvious she was interacting with the group and I'm finding the giant Pacific octopus to be more fascinating every time I see her.

Franchesca, swamp wallaby
When the proceedings were done for the day, one of my classmates and I headed over to the Australasia pavilion so I could put into practice some of the recognition tips we learned from Brent Huffman, a keeper in that area, who passed them on to us during our monthly Volunteer meeting at the end of January. The male Komodo dragon, Kilat, was out in his enclosure and pretty inert so we moved right along to the exhibit opposite that, which houses wallabies, wombats, bettongs and echidnas. During the half-hour or so that we were there, we actually were able to see every single animal that calls that area home, which is a pretty rare thing indeed. The two swamp wallabies (Franchesca and Sophie) and the one Bennett's wallaby (Stevie) are almost always there; Arthur and Millie, the two young Southern hairy-nosed wombats who are recent additions, we running around as well. Through a screen we were also able to make out Hamlet who is, at thirty-one, the oldest Southern hairy-nosed wombat currently in captivity. Incidentally, there are only thirteen of these creatures living outside of Australia and only ten of those in North America; three currently reside at the Toronto Zoo. It's actually a far more impressive coup to have the wombats here than the pandas! Both bettongs, Julie and Dana, were visible in the enclosure as well, which is quite unusual. But the rarest sighting of all was of both short-beaked echidnas, Norman and Annie, after the keeper had put down their slurry for them.

Norman, front, and Annie, rear: short-beaked echidnas
It has always been difficult to spot the echidnas in their exhibit; however, since the two young wombats arrived last fall and started digging a huge network of tunnels for the echidnas to hide in, it's become almost impossible. Annie, in the background of this photo, is about thirty years old and has spent nearly her entire life at the Toronto Zoo. Norman, eating, is forty-seven and is the second-oldest animal at the Zoo (a Nicobar pigeon is forty-eight); he arrived here in 2004 from the Cleveland Zoo to hopefully mate with Annie. It's apparently very rare for echidnas to mate successfully in captivity; perhaps the new-found privacy of the tunnels will help our pair along. Norman is very easy to tell from Annie due to his propensity to blow "snot bubbles" rather continuously because of some sinus issues he's had for a while. You should be able to easily make them out in a couple of these pictures, but especially this one:

Snot-nosed, "Spiny Norman", the echidna

Oh boy! Echidna slop for dinner again!
The plastic dish Norman is going to town on contains "echidna slop", a kind of "disgusting slurry" (as Brent described it) that they love to eat and which provides the proper nutrients and vitamins for their diet. The problem is, the wallabies like it, too—especially Stevie—and it's not good for their digestive system at all. The keepers are trying different ways to discourage the wallabies from eating the slurry; right now the container you see in this picture has two lids with different-sized holes cut into them. The top holes are fairly large so the echidna can get its snout into it but the holes underneath are very narrow—just big enough for the seven-inch-long tongues of the little insectivores. The rocks that you see so carefully arranged all around and on top of the container are there to pin it down so the wallabies cannot tip it over and either knock the lids off or have the concoction seep out of the tiny holes. It seemed to be working last Friday, but I understand it's an ongoing battle of wills between the keepers and the wallabies.

Today I went back through the snow to the Zoo for a presentation on "How to Use Themes" which took up most of the morning. Afterwards I hiked up the hill to the African Savannah to see if the penguin chicks were on display yet (they weren't). Heading up the boardwalk I passed who I thought was Harry, the male Sumatran tiger, tucked away in the den of straw:

Harry's new mate, Kemala—look at those gorgeous paws!

But I was wrong! It looks like Harry's new mate, Kemala, has finally made it through quarantine (after arriving here from the zoo in Fort Wayne, Indiana) and is out on exhibit. Look at her beautiful folded paws and the expression on her face. She and I did a lot of "narrowing of the eyes" at each other and it was quite thrilling. And how did I figure out it wasn't Harry in that cave? Because this is Harry:

Harry, the Sumatran tiger

I found him walking around in the enclosure on the other side of the boardwalk. Harry is, as you can tell just from looking, quite a bit bigger than Kemala (whom he's looking towards in the above picture). I hope this mating goes a lot better than his last attempt and maybe there will be some cute tiger cubs in our future!

Continuing on my way to see the penguins, I passed through the African Savannah area. The only animals that I saw out on display were the white lions. I paused to watch them through the glass of the underpass for a few minutes; at one point a starling flew into their exhibit and drew the rapt attention of Lemon, one of the females:

Lemon engaged by a starling (not visible)

Until it flew away:

And the starling escaped unharmed!

I don't know who was more intrigued, him or me!
From there I finally reached the penguins but, as I mentioned earlier, there were no new chicks on display yet. I think they could be there any day at this point, but there's really no reason to rush them out while the weather is keeping visitors away, for the most part. I will check again next week, though, and I really hope to get some good shots of them soon. However, I didn't come away empty-handed; while I stood at the glass I managed to attract the attention of Eldon and one of the older males (I can't tell who's who yet!). I wiggled my fingers where they could see them and slowly swung my hand back and forth over my head in a big arc. The older penguin hopped up as close to the ledge as he could (there were some mats piled in front of it) and looked for all the world as if I wanted to hop up on the ledge but could not figure out how to manage it. I played with him for a bit as he kept his eye(s) on my fingers, and then I got this magical shot:


Eldon wasn't quite as brave, which is odd because I believe he is the most sociable of all of the penguins at the Zoo, having been completely hand-raised, but he still watched me quite closely before he decided the bucket of soapy water was much more interesting:

Eldon, the eldest of last year's chicks

That was my last stop for today and I headed home before the latest Snowmageddon™ hits us. Tomorrow is supposed to be our final Volunteer training class and I'll be slaving over a hot stove tonight to put something together for our end-of-term pot luck. (Ok, ok, it's more likely that Sarah is going to make some brownies and we'll be putting together a dessert. But I could have made something more elaborate. Oh, yes, I could have.) I hope the class doesn't get postponed because I am looking forward to doing some more "shadowing" over the next couple of Fridays. Also, I don't want to have to eat all of the "brownie kebobs" on my own if there's no pot luck.

But I'm willing to sacrifice for the greater good if I absolutely have to.

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