Newsmakers 2010: Grim and bear it: Toledo ZooWritten by Caitlin McGlade | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Local zoo animals made quite the ruckus this year, but the humans on scene are preparing to unveil even bigger news in the upcoming year.
The Toledo Zoo rang in last year debuting the polar bear cub, followed with a new female elephant named Twiggy, then made national headlines after the young male elephant Louie attacked a zookeeper.
Siku, the polar bear cub born December 2009, was the only polar bear cub born in a zoo that year. The little cub who started out about the size of a stick of butter never had to make a sound to raise awareness.
“We really want to try to link polar bears in the wild with polar bears in zoos because they really are the ambassadors to make people care about what’s happening in the wild,” said Dr. Randi Meyerson, curator of mammals for the zoo.
Not only has climate change shrunk natural habitats, but mothers in the wild could have fewer offspring because of declining health. Polar bears breed between February and May but the female’s embryo goes dormant until August or September.
This happens because the mother has to be healthy for the embryo to implant, to avoid birthing cubs when there is not enough nutrients for them, Meyerson said.
Triplets have become rare as a result, she added.
Siku’s mother has had twins before, but this time gave birth to Siku and a stillborn cub. Now Siku, weighs more than a couple hundred pounds and is in training. After about another year he will have to move to another zoo, to mimic the natural order of polar bear interaction in the wild, Meyerson said.
The other big addition was Twiggy, a 25-year-old female elephant who came from a circus in Indiana. The United States Department of Agriculture confiscated her because she was mistreated, said Anne Baker, director of the zoo.
Twiggy was underweight and had bad skin when she arrived. She had poor muscle tone because she spent most of her life standing in one place, Baker said.
“She had spent her life alone,” Baker said. “Her first couple of days she was just standing in a corner and finally realized, ‘Hey, I can move here,’” Baker said.
Getting her comfortable with the resident elephants took some time. One of the techniques zookeepers use to help is called “howdying” — they can see, smell and hear each other but cannot touch.
By now she has blended in. Louie, the 7-year-old bull, is her favorite.
“I don’t know if elephants have best friends, but if they do, they’re best friends,” Baker said.
Louie has gotten along well with others lately, despite the attack this summer. Zookeeper Don RedFox entered the elephant enclosure alone July 1. The two reportedly didn’t know the other was present. Louie, startled, charged RedFox and punctured his lungs and broke some of his ribs. RedFox spent about a month in the hospital and is still recovering at home, Baker said.
Baker previously told the press that Louie was not supposed to be in his enclosure during that time. A review committee could not decipher why Louie was there and said RedFox didn’t normally enter alone.
Now, Louie is in protective contact with Twiggy, which means zookeepers interact with him from behind a training wall. Zookeepers were already starting to phase Louie into that because growing male elephants tend to get more aggressive as they age, Baker said.
“What we learned is that, quite honestly, our policies and our protocols are good and they’re there for a reason,” Baker said. “When they’re not followed, it can have bad consequences.”
The elephants will continue to make some noise in the upcoming years. Renee, Louie’s mother, is pregnant again.
The zoo is also constructing the newer, larger elephant exhibit to be finished in 2012. Toledo Zoo techniques include showing the public how keepers care for the animals, and also changing up terrains and activities for the elephants, Baker said.