Around 10 o’clock I headed over to the Sacramento Zoo to participate in their behind-the-scenes “hoofed animal” event. I got there a little early, so I walked around the flamingo pond, and was able to get a video snippet of one of the Crested Screamers screaming. It was in the 40’s outside, so you can actually see the bird’s breath as it squawks. Around 11:00 am I was met by a woman named Kathryn who introduced herself as my tour guide – and let me know that I was the only one who would be going on the tour, so we could take as much time as we wanted, and I’d have her all to myself. Cool!
I let her know that I was with Tuleyome and told her about our program on one of the wishing wells in the front of the zoo. Instant bonding. She liked talking with naturalists, she said. She asked me how long I’d been a zoo member and which animals I liked. I told her I really liked the “weird” ones like the Red River Hogs and the Abyssinian Ground Hornbills — and Coconut, the baby Snow Leopard, but everybody likes him. Hah! She said they’d set up a tour for the Hornbills but had to pull it from their schedule because they were going into their mating season and could get aggressive with strangers. They can also do special tours – for a fee – if you’d like them to; just tell them what animals you’re interested in and they’ll work up an encounter for you. The cost is a bit prohibitive for me, $150 per person, but not overly pricey for someone with a good income. This is the first time the zoo is doing these behind-the-scenes tours (inspired by “The Zoo” television show on Animal Planet), so their staff is excited to see how things go.
Anyway, Kathryn walked me back behind the animal hospital on the grounds and into the hoofed animal pathway along the back of the zoo. First stop was the kitchens where meals are prepared for all of the animal every morning (and sometimes in the afternoon). Kathryn picked up a bowl of carrots and leaf lettuce and then we were on our way to see the animals.
CLICK HERE to see the full album of photos. (I was so engrossed with the tour, listening to Kathryn, that I forgot to take many photos during it. D’oh!)
As we walked along, Kathryn let me know that ALL of the plants on the zoo property and non-poisonous, so if an animal is able to reach outside the confines of its enclosure and grab a snack from a nearby bush or tree, it won’t get sick. She also said that the animals are checked at least once month for any zoonotic diseases (diseases which are communicable from one animal to another, or from animals to people and vice-versa) – and that’s done in part because there’s no way for the zoo to effectively keep errant birds, squirrels, mice and rats from coming into the zoo from the outside.
First stop was the giraffe pen, and Kathryn showed me the “squeeze box” areas that the giraffes walk into when they’re going to get seen by the vet or checked out by the keepers. Because the giraffes are so tall, of course, everything is on a huge scale. When we walked along the back of their paddock, the big Masai male giraffe came up to the fence to greet us – and ask for food. He was super picky, though, and didn’t want the lettuce or carrots we had for him. He wanted acacia leaves. So, Kathryn got a bowl of them, and I was able to feed him those. You know about the giraffe’s long purple tongue, I’m sure, but did you know that their saliva is like thick slime? It’s to protect the tongue from injury when the giraffe pulls leaves and twigs from trees. I found out just how thick it was when the giraffe licked my knuckles as he was taking the acacia leaves from me.
Also, in the pen with him, among the other giraffes, were sister Reticulated giraffes, Sky and Goody. They’re super bonded to one another, and Sky kept giving Goody lots of kisses. Goody had a malformed foot, so the zoo staff along with a medical team from UC Davis, fitted her with a special boot to even out her footing. Sky came to get some acacia leaves, too, but Goody was more shy.
Then we walked around to the zebra enclosure. All of the zebras there right now are older females who have arthritis and other health issues. Their enclosure has mostly flat ground with only a few shallow knolls, so the old gals don’t have to worry about steep climbs or uneven terrain. Each one, of course, has its own unique stripe pattern, and their keepers can immediately identify who’s who just by looking at the pattern on the zebras faces. One of the zebra came up to get carrots, but I wasn’t allowed to feed her myself because the zebras have big sharp teeth, like a donkey, and can get a little food aggressive.
Then, we went to see the Bongos. Mama Penny and her daughter Taylor (Swift) were in the large exhibit pen and the dad (I don’t remember his name) was in the smaller one. The Bongos are actually “forest” dwellers and are larger and heavier than gazelles or other similar species. They’re also slower moving. Males are darker in color than the females, but only when they’re young and virile. When they get older and their testosterone levels drop, the take on the same coloring as the females.
Taylor had made headlines about a year ago when she escaped from the exhibit and went running through the zoo. There had been a violent rain and wind storm one afternoon that caused tree limbs to fall into the exhibit. It spooked her and she jumped the fence from her exhibit into the Red River Hogs’ exhibit, where the fencing was lower, and then jumped the fence there into the zoo. Luckily, the zoo had just had a fire-drill about animal containment a couple of days before Taylor’s escape, so they were able to use baffle-boards (boards with handles on them), to surround Taylor and guide her back around behind the vet clinic – along the same route I was taking with Katheryn, to get her back where she belonged. It took all of 10 minutes. Phew!
When we were done with the bongos, Kathryn and I walked back to the vet clinic where I was “released into the wild” of the zoo. I really enjoyed the one-on-one time with someone so knowledgeable about the zoo and its animals and would love to go on other excursions if they’re made available.
I left Kathryn and I walked over to the area where the big cats are, and was very happy to see that Coconut, the baby Snow Leopard, and his mom, Misha, were out on exhibit. Coconut is getting so big now that he’s almost the same size as his mom and, at first, I mistook him for his dad, Blizzard. The keeper who was standing by the exhibit said he’s now about 9 months old and may be able to stay with mom until he’s almost 3 years old – but that will depend on Misha. When she gets to the point where she thinks Coconut is big enough and feisty enough to fend for himself, she’ll stop caring for him and tolerating him. He’s getting pretty food-aggressive right now, but so far Misha has been patient with that and lets him have whatever her wants. Today was “bone day”, so there were a few large cattle bones in the Snow Leopards’ exhibit. Coconut greedily confiscated all of them and put them in a pile so he could gnaw on them. Hah!
There was a lot of construction going on throughout the zoo. The new Okapi exhibit is being finished up and is slated to open on February 15th. Although they’re hoofed animals, too, I didn’t get to see them on my tour because they were still in quarantine. The zoo if also refurbishing the jaguar exhibit and will be expanding the lion exhibit soon… Lots of changes.