Newsletter Archives

Vol 49, No. 2, Fall 2010

In this Issue of the Zoo's Quarterly Newsletter

SPLASH! North American River Otter Habitat Directors Den From the Kitchen
Animal Chatter Education Bulletin Keepers Corner
Three Little Piglets! Zoo Parent Calendar of Events


SPLASH! North American River Otter Habitat

Watching otters is simply fascinating; just ask anyone who has spent time observing their playfulness. They scramble in and out of the water, chasing each other while tumbling around, diving in and out of the pool. The Sacramento Zoo currently has two North American river otters, and they are a favorite with visiting families who spend hours enjoying the otters’ antics.

River otter photoOne of the older exhibits at the Zoo, the otter pool and holding area are in need of a facelift. Plans are on the drawing board for renovation of the current exhibit to enlarge the usable space, provide more adequate off-exhibit dens and keeper area, and allow for a more visually-pleasing habitat for visitors to observe and enjoy the daily frolicking of the Zoo’s two North American river otters.

The renovation will increase the land to water ratio, providing more usable space for enrichment and training activities. Plans call for a terraced planter at the back of the exhibit, allowing for the inclusion of new plants.  The renovation will enclose three mature live trees that currently surround the otter enclosure.

Glass at the front of the exhibit will allow close contact between otters and guests, encouraging Zoo visitors to connect with these amazing animals. Newly designed barriers at the sides and rear of the exhibit will showcase the otters in a much more natural setting than their current enclosure. A major goal of the new design is to include a visitor training experience combined with an educational component.

Other features of the renovated area:
• The mesh roof will be removed, leaving an open-air top;
• Installation of a filtration system will allow us to maintain higher levels of water quality in a more ecologically sustainable fashion;
• There will be two tunnels leading into the back holding area from the enclosure for use by the otters;
• The renovation has a strategic, multi-species design that would serve other animals in the future if warranted; e.g. if an expanded otter exhibit was built elsewhere in the Zoo at some point to accommodate an additional number of otters, other species could then be easily transitioned into this renovated space;
• Construction is scheduled to begin Fall 2010 for an anticipated Spring 2011 opening.

Fundraising is currently underway to support this renovation. If you have questions, please call the Zoo’s development department at 916-808-3713. For contributions of $1,000 or more, your name will be included in a special recognition area at the new exhibit, sending a message of your commitment to the animals and the Sacramento Zoo.

Your support is needed to upgrade the old, outdated exhibit. Please join others in the community to provide expanded and upgraded facilities for the Zoo’s otters. Your contribution is “otterly” appreciated!

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Directors Den
By Mary Healy

Mary Healy

“Excuse me for interrupting your dinner, but there is a hippo in the garden.” Thankfully, I was not at home in Sacramento when my dinner partners and I heard this message. We were in Botswana on a 16-day African excursion that started in Cape Town and ended at Victoria Falls in Zambia. 

The Sacramento Zoo offers a variety of trips from time to time; previous destinations have included Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands. I was fortunate to be the tour host for this African adventure. Cape Town was especially exciting this year as the whole country geared up for the World Cup. Who knew that those silly horns sold in every airport gift shop would prove to be so obnoxious? Cape Town’s highlights were the Blackfoot penguins at Boulders Beach and driving the beautiful highway along the Cape of Good Hope. We left Cape Town for the wilds of Botswana where we stayed in luxury tented camps. It’s hard to single out the top animal experience, but being in a small motor boat while sharing the river with elephants and hippos is pretty near the top of the list!

Our last camp in Zambia was a glorious finale:  we awoke in the morning enveloped in the mist from the Zambezi River before embarking on a thrilling helicopter ride over beautiful Victoria Falls! My suitcase is packed for the next adventure …

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From the Kitchen

tiger cub photoIt is very interesting to watch the development and growth of an animal like a Sumatran tiger cub. Every day keepers are in close contact with zoo animals under their care and that in itself is always a thrill.  But on the rare occasion we must intervene and assist in the early rearing of an animal – that takes on a special meaning.

Ordinarily a cub relies exclusively on its mother’s milk for the first few months.  But Jingga was not gaining weight as expected and the staff helped supplement a few feedings. By the fifth day, she was eating well on her own.

 Starting at a little over one month old, the keepers began to notice Jingga’s interest in her mom’s carnivore chow, then in her meat diet. The keepers started making three piles of meat for the two of them because Baha was not always in a sharing mood.

The staff has already started working with Jingga on simple commands like “target”, calling her in and asking her to “move over” with the reward being a squirt of meat juice for accomplishing the task. The little cub is a fast learner.

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Animal Chatter

Bird Area:
All seven Burrowing owl chicks are spending time outside of the burrow; a new sign at the exhibit will allow you to identify the individuals by their unique leg bands. See if you can spot an owlet or two on your next trip to the Zoo!

Carnivore Area:
Jingga, the tiger cub, continues to grow quickly and seems to genuinely enjoy interacting with guests through the viewing window at her outdoor exhibit.   As you may notice the next time you visit, the bamboo in the yard has taken quite a beating; it turns out that springing off stiff bamboo shoots has become a hobby for our youngest cat.

Ungulate Area:
The three baby Red river hogs are slowly being introduced to the great outdoors.  The herd (a male, female, and three piglets) can now be seen exploring the big yard adjacent to their barn, and will soon be introduced to the three bongo.  The piglets are gaining weight steadily, and are starting to appreciate a good mud wallow on a hot day!

Red Pandas:
Unexpected water damage was recently discovered behind the scenes at the Red panda’s building.  Unfortunately, the pandas will not be visible while we tackle the repair; our apologies for any inconvenience.  All three pandas are settling in to their vacation home at the Zoo’s air-conditioned veterinary hospital, munching on fresh bamboo browse delivered daily by keepers!

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Education Bulletin
Goodnight Zoo

poison dart frog photoDue to our ever-changing world, animals adapt their behavior, physiology, or structure to accommodate their habitats. Every animal has acquired adaptations over time to help them survive, and some are much more noticeable than others!

For instance, picture a hedgehog, a tortoise, and a poison dart frog. Each of these animals has developed a barrier on their body that dissuades a predator from taking a bite. They are three very different adaptations, yet serve the exact same purpose: protection.

The hair on a hedgehog’s back is composed of a very thick matrix of keratin (the same component in human hair or fingernails) and modified into a very pointed spike. When a hedgehog encounters a predator, it rolls itself into a ball, leaving only the spiked hair exposed.   They protect their most vulnerable spots – their head and soft belly, from hungry animals.

The tortoise is best known for its protective heavy shell that surrounds the softer body parts. The shell, permanently attached to the spine and ribs of the tortoise, is the only defense against predators in the wild. It is made out of the same type of dermal bone found in human skulls. The bone grows around the tortoise body in early development and is covered by keratin scales.

Poison dart frogs maintain levels of defensive toxins in their skin, and the most potent of frogs have enough toxin to kill 10 humans!  They all have brightly colored skin to advertise their toxicity. Typically, predatory animals get the hint and leave the dart frogs alone.

Each of these animals has different protective qualities to survive in the wild, exhibiting some pretty unique adaptations. To learn more about the exciting animal kingdom, visit the Zoo with your school group in the fall and can take advantage of special programs like Zoo Previews or Survive and Thrive: An Animal Adaptations Show.   Sign up at or 916-808-8814.

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Keepers Corner

giraffe photoNow that the Zoo’s three giraffes have had a few months to settle in, they couldn’t be happier with their new home and expanded yard! This past winter, they experienced a temperature controlled heated barn and slept on padded floors. Each girl chose a roomy stall to be her personal bedroom and the keepers set the feeders to the appropriate height (each is on a pulley system).

When the weather is hot, Val, Skye and Goody spend most of their time exploring the larger exhibit meeting guests at the viewing deck for daily feedings. They stretch their legs and have to look a lot harder for their food and browse – the keepers have plenty of places to hide enrichment these days. Skye even has more space for kicking her soccer ball back and forth! When they come inside, they can cool off under ceiling fans or earn rewards from the keepers for practicing veterinary exams in their giraffe squeeze – a padded safety device that keeps the staff out of harm’s way while training the giraffes.

All food and hay is now stored inside the barn, and there is even a kitchen for preparing daily diets and treats.  With hot water and drains in every stall, staff is able to scrub the barn down and keep it sparkling clean, ensuring good health for the giraffes. Thank you to everyone who supported Tall Wonders!

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Three Little Piglets!

A first in the Sacramento Zoo’s 83-year history, the Zoo welcomed three newborn Red river hogs on July 16th.  On the morning of the birth, the Zoo keeper checked in on Daisy, the mother, and found the three young piglets already nursing and squirming around the den.  One male and two female piglets are gaining weight every day and growing quickly.

“As a first-time mom, Daisy has gone above our expectations giving excellent care for the piglets,” said Lindsey Moseanko.  “All three youngsters are showing their different personality traits.  Jovian is very sociable; Flint, the runt, is a momma’s boy; and Chloe is very quick on her toes,” Moseanko said.

The Sacramento Zoo acquired two Red river hogs in 2009. Daisy is from the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago, and the male, J.D., came from the Bronx Zoo.  The Sacramento Zoo confirmed the pregnancy on July 12th during an ultrasound performed in the Zoo’s Dr. Murray E. Fowler Veterinary Hospital.

At birth, Red river hogs weigh about two pounds. When full grown, they weigh between 120 and 264 pounds and reach three to five feet in length. Until about three months of age, piglets are brown with yellowish stripes; this coloring serves as effective camouflage. Native to the dense tropical jungles of Central to West Africa, Red river hog populations are in serious decline due to hunting for food and sport.  Their absence from the forests has been proven to be particularly detrimental, since Red river hogs disperse seeds, helping to encourage forest growth. The Sacramento Zoo’s participation in a carefully managed breeding program will contribute directly to the species’ long term survival.

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