Okapi

Okapia johnstoni

The unique color pattern of the okapi allows it to disappear into the background of dense vegetation in the forests where it lives. From the front, the dark coloration is rather dull and inconspicuous. From the back, the white stripes against the brown fur help the okapi blend into the shadows of the rainforest. Their fur also helps repel rain and moisture in their rainforest habitat, due to an oily coating.

Classification

CLASS:Mammalia
ORDER:Artiodactyla
FAMILY:Giraffidae
GENUS:Okapia
SPECIES:johnstoni

Habitat & Range

This species prefers dense rainforests near water.

Found only in the Ituri tropical rainforests of the Democratic Republic of Congo in central Africa, at altitudes from 1,640 to 3,280 feet (500 to 1,000 m) or higher.

Location

Adaptations

  • Giraffe Cousins
  • Although the okapi’s striped markings are similar to the zebra, it is actually related to the giraffe. Like giraffe, okapi have skin-covered horns and a long black or dark blue prehensile tongue. Unlike giraffe, okapi are solitary animals living in dense rainforest areas. Due to their size and their versatile tongue, both giraffe and okapi are able to reach vegetation higher up than most other hoofed animals.
  • Prehensile Tongue
  • The okapi’s long prehensile tongue is used to strip leaves from branches and vines. Their tongue is 12-14 inches (30-36 cm) long and black or dark blue in color. Okapi can also use their tongue to wash their eyelids, clean out their ears and swat insects from their withers (the ridge between an animal’s shoulder bones).
  • Can You See Me Now?
  • The unique color pattern of the okapi allows it to disappear into the background of dense vegetation in the forests where it lives. From the front, the dark coloration is rather dull and inconspicuous. From the back, the white stripes against the brown fur help the okapi blend into the shadows of the rainforest. Their fur also helps repel rain and moisture in their rainforest habitat, due to an oily coating.

Physical Description

  • Okapi are about eight feet (2.4 m) long.
  • They weigh 450-550 pounds (202-248 kg); females are larger than males.
  • Stand six and a half feet (1.9 m) high at the shoulder.
  • Okapi have dark brown velvet-like fur with horizontal white stripes on the legs and rear.
  • Males have two small skin covered horns called “ossicones” on their forehead.
  • They have a 12-14 inch (30-36 cm) long, flexible black or dark blue tongue.
  • They have large ears.

Diet

What Does It Eat?

In the wild:
Leaves, buds, grasses, ferns, fruit and fungi. Mineral requirements are filled by ingesting sulfurous, slightly salty, reddish clay found near rivers and streams.

At the zoo:
Hay, grain, vitamin and mineral supplements and fruit treats.

What Eats It?
Okapi are preyed upon by leopards, and some humans for bushmeat.

Mom and baby okapi

Social Organization

Okapi are solitary except for mating pairs and females with calves.

Life Cycle

Both males and females are sexually mature at three years of age. During mating time, females issue trumpet calls and leave scent traits in the forest to alert males. After mating, the male and female go their separate ways. After a gestation of 14 months okapi give birth to a single calf weighing 30-65 pounds (14-30 kg) in dense forest vegetation. The calf can stand within 30 minutes and begin nursing in 15-30 minutes. For the first two months the calf is hidden in the underbrush and nurses infrequently. Hiding and resting protects calves from predators and seems to promote rapid growth. Calves are weaned at about six months, although they may continue to suckle for a year. Males develop ossicones between one and five years. Lifespan in the wild is difficult to determine for these secretive animals but in captivity okapi can live between 15 and 20 years.

Reticulated Giraffe

Giraffa reticulata

Everything about a giraffe is longer or taller than other animals! Because of their height, giraffes do not have to compete for food. The giraffe’s legs are longer than an average man is tall (six feet), and their front legs are longer than their back legs. Even the giraffe’s tongue is long – as much as 18 inches. The tongue is strong and flexible allowing them to grasp and strip leaves from thorny branches.

Classification

CLASS:Mammalia
ORDER:Artiodactyla
FAMILY:Giraffidae
GENUS:Giraffa
SPECIES:reticulata

Habitat & Range

Reticulated giraffes can be found across northern and north-eastern Kenya, and small restricted populations most likely persist in southern Somalia and southern Ethiopia.

They inhabit open woodlands and dry savannas with trees, especially various species of acacia trees.

Location

Adaptations

  • A reticulated giraffe’s height enables it to reach food sources that are out of reach for other animals.
  • Long prehensile tongues and fleshy lips strip leaves from branches.
    • The tongue allows the giraffe to reach leaves on thorny branches without scratching its face or eyes.
  • To keep their blood flowing, giraffes need big hearts, two feet (0.6 m) long and weighing about 25 pounds (11kg), and large blood vessels.
  • Giraffes are ruminants with four-chambered stomachs that process their fibrous diet.
    • Their ability to chew their cuds while walking allows them to make efficient use of foraging time.
  • Reticulated giraffes have excellent eyesight, allowing them to see movement up to a mile away, and a keen sense of hearing that help them be safe from predators.
  • Their spotted coat pattern helps to camouflage them in the dry savanna.
  • They can run 35 miles per hour (56 kph) for short distances and can deliver a strong kickto discourage predators.

Physical Description

  • Giraffes are the tallest land mammals.
  • Males range from 16-18 feet (4.8-5.5 m) tall and weigh as much as 4,200 pounds (1,900 kg); females reach 14-16 feet (4.3-4.8 m) tall and weigh up to 2,600 pounds (1,180 kg).
  • The reticulated giraffe’s coat has a pattern of large polygon-shaped brown spots on a creamy white background, a pattern that is unique to each individual.
  • Their legs are about six feet (1.8 m) long, longer than the average man is tall.
  • Their six foot (1.8 m) long necks have only seven vertebrae, the same number as humans.
  • Their backs are steeply sloped from front to back; their front legs are longer than their back legs.
  • Both males and females have short, fur-covered horns called ossicones on the tops of their heads.
  • Their black prehensile tongues are about 18 inches (46 cm) long.
  • Their feet have two digits.

Diet

What Does It Eat?

In the wild:
Reticulated giraffes eat leaves, flowers, seed pods and fruit.  Acacias are their preferred food source.

At the zoo:
Denver zoo’s giraffes eat alfalfa hay, grain, and browse, fruits and vegetables for training and enrichment.

What Eats It?
Lions, leopards, hyenas, and crocodiles hunt mostly young, old or sick giraffes.

Family of reticulated giraffes

Social Organization

Reticulated giraffes live in loose, open herds of a few animals up to 40 whose composition frequently changes.  Herds may consist entirely of females with or without calves, mixed sexes or all males.  Females are more social than males.  Males are not territorial but individuals may spar with one another to establish dominance.

Life Cycle

Reticulated giraffes breed year round.  Males sniff a female’s urine to determine whether she is receptive to breeding and guard a receptive female from other males.  Gestation lasts about fifteen months followed usually by the birth of one calf although twin births are possible.  Females give birth walking or standing up, and calves are able to stand and begin nursing within an hour.  Newborns are about six feet (1.8 m) tall and weigh up to 160 pounds (72.6 kg).  When the calf is a month old, it and its mother join a nursery made up of other mothers and their calves.  Mothers take turns guarding the nursery while others forage nearby, returning to the nursery frequently to nurse their calves.  Calves are weaned at twelve to thirteen months and remain with their mothers for a few additional months.  Females reach sexual maturity at three to four years old; males about a year later.  Giraffes have an average lifespan of about 25 years in their natural habitat and a range of 20 to 27 years in human care.

Ring-tailed Lemur

Lemur catta

Ring-tailed lemurs communicate with vocalizations and scent marking. They are one of the most vocal primates with at least 15 different vocalizations including one call for aerial predators and another for terrestrial predators. There is a call to bring troop members together, and an alarm call uttered in unison by the whole troop.

Classification

CLASS:Mammalia
ORDER:Primate
FAMILY:Lemuridae
GENUS:Lemur
SPECIES:catta

Habitat & Range

Ring-tailed lemurs prefer spiny forest, lowland gallery forest, dry scrub, dry deciduous forest and rock canyons.

This species is only found in south and southwest Madagascar.

Location

Adaptations

  • Ring-tailed lemurs are diurnal, or active during the day.
  • They are terrestrial, meaning they spend most of their time on the ground, though they are still agile in trees.
  • Males scent-mark with a wrist gland that also has a horny pad used to gouge scent into bark.
  • They keep their ringed tails in the air when they travel as visual communication to keep the group together.
  • They have six lower teeth that stick straight out from the jaw forming a “comb” that they use to groom their own fur and that of other members of the troop.
  • They are one of the most vocal primates with several different alarm calls.

Physical Description

  • The ring-tailed lemur has a very distinctive bushy tail with thirteen alternating black and white bands.
  • They are about the size of a house cat with a head and body length of 17 inches (42.5 cm) Their tail is 24 inches long (60cm). They weigh 4 ½ – 5 ½ pounds (2.0 – 2.4kg).
  • They have gray to rosy brown fun on the back, gray limbs and haunches and dark gray heads and necks.
  • Their undersides are white and their faces are white with dark triangular eye patches and a black pointed muzzle.

Diet

What Does It Eat?

In the wild:
This species of lemur eats fruit, leaves, flowers, bark, sap, large insects and sometimes small vertebrates like chameleons. They will occasionally consume soli to supplement their diet.

At the zoo:
The troop of lemurs is fed vegetables, greens, starches, a low starch gel, biscuits, and a small amount of dried fruit for training.

What Eats It?
Their main natural predators are the Madagascar harrier-hawk,  Madagascar buzzard and fossas.

ring tailed lemurs cuddling

Social Organization

Ring-tailed lemurs are the largest groups of all lemurs in Madagascar. The ratio of males to females is about 50:50 plus young. Groups which are called troops are numbered anywhere between 3 and 35 individuals. Females are dominant over the males. It is a matriarchal society where the males leave when they become sexually mature at 2.5 – 3 years. Males continue to change groups every 3 to 5 years throughout their lives.

Life Cycle

Ring-tailed lemurs usually give birth to a single offspring, but twins occur occasionally. Gestation is about 130 – 144 days and babies are born in September when food becomes abundant. The young lemurs weight 3–4 oz (85–113 gm) at birth and can immediately cling to the mother’s belly where they stay for about for 1-2 weeks. They then midrate to her back for another 1 -2 weeks and begin walking at about four weeks, returning to their mother only to eat and sleep. Offspring are independent at about six months. Their life expectancy is 15 – 16 years in the wild and around 20 years in captivity.

Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep

Ovis canadensis


The hooves of the bighorn sheep have a hard outside rim used for digging into the ground or cutting into snow or ice. The inside of the hoof is soft and spongy like the bottom of a tennis shoe to aid in traction. They have split hooves that pinch and hold rocks somewhat like clothespins and the claws higher up on the foot act like brakes if the sheep starts to slide on loose rock or slippery surfaces.

Classification

CLASS:Mammalia
ORDER:Artiodactyla
FAMILY:Bovidae
GENUS:Ovis
SPECIES:canadensis

Habitat & Range

Alpine meadows and foothills near rocky cliffs at elevations ranging from 7,000 to 10,000 feet.

Found in the Rocky Mountains from southern Canada to Colorado

Location

north america globe

Adaptations

  • Crash, Bam!
  • Adult Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep rams have massive horns that can weigh as much as 50 pounds (22 kg). During the fall rut, or mating season, rams clash horns to establish dominance and breeding rights. Rearing up on their hind legs, opposing rams charge full speed toward each other and butt heads using their horns as battering rams. Although they may hit with considerable force, the animals are seldom hurt because the skull and massive neck muscles absorb the force of the blow. The sound of clashing horns can be heard a mile away.
  • Rock Climbers
  • Bighorn sheep are agile climbers that can climb up steep rocky slopes with ease. They can jump seven feet (2 m) across wide crevices in their rugged habitat and can even turn in mid-air landing on small ledges of rock. Even young lambs can scamper across rocky terrain. Their climbing ability helps bighorn sheep escape predators including mountain lions and coyotes.
  • Designer Footwear
  • The hooves of the bighorn sheep have a hard outside rim used for digging into the ground or cutting into snow or ice. The inside of the hoof is soft and spongy (like the bottom of a tennis shoe) to aid in traction, making these sheep excellent climbers and jumpers. They have split hooves that pinch and hold rocks (somewhat like clothespins) and the claws higher up on the foot act like brakes if the sheep starts to slide on loose rock or slippery surfaces.

Physical Description

  • Males are about six feet (1.8 m) long; females are four and a half to five and a half feet (1.3-1.7 m) long.
  • Males weigh 125-300 pounds (56-135 kg); females weigh 75-200 pounds (34-90 kg).
  • Males stand three to three and a half feet tall (1.1 m) at the shoulder.
  • Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep have brown to gray brown fur with a distinctive white rump patch and white on the belly, muzzle, back of legs and a white eye patch.
  • Males have massive horns that spiral backwards from the top of the head forming a curl that can measure over three feet (1 m); females have much smaller horns.

Diet

What Does It Eat?

In the wild:
In summer they eat grasses including horsetail, bluegrass, June grass, needle grass and wheat grass. In winter they eat woody items such as willow, alder and some evergreens.

At the zoo:
Hay, grain and vitamin supplements.

What Eats It?
Wolves, mountain lions, coyotes and eagles prey on this species.

group of bighorn sheep

Social Organization

Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep are social animals that live in herds. In spring and summer, males form bands of up to 10 individuals led by a dominant ram. Females and young form separate herds and generally graze away from the males. In winter, larger mixed herds form consisting of up to 100 males, females and young.

Life Cycle

Females, called “ewes,” mature at about two and a half years of age. During the fall rutting season, males have head butting contests to determine dominance and breeding rights. Because of the need to establish dominance, males rarely breed before the age of six. After a gestation of about 180 days, females give birth to a single lamb; twins are rare. Lambs are born with horn buds, can stand almost immediately and can run and climb within a day or two. Lambs are weaned at four to six months and weigh about 75 pounds (34 kg) as winter begins. Bighorn sheep live an average of eight years, but can live up to 16-18 years.

River Hippopotamus

Hippopotamus amphibius

Hippos practice “muck-spreading” which occurs when the tail is vigorously wagged during defecation. This action scatters feces in a wide range and may serve to mark territory or mark trails from the water to their grazing areas.

Classification

CLASS:Mammalia
ORDER:Artiodactyla
FAMILY:Hippopotamidae
GENUS:Hippopotamus
SPECIES:amphibius

Habitat & Range

Swamps or grasslands that surround deep rivers and lakes.

Historically the river hippopotamus ranged through Africa south of the Sahara, however most populations have been reduced or exterminated. Most hippos are in the Nile river valley of east Africa.

Location

Hippos are abundant in protected areas and are not currently endangered. The main threat to hippos is from hunting rather than habitat loss. They are hunted for their meat and also for their large canine teeth. Since the ban on trade in elephant ivory, many smaller carvings are now made from hippo canines.

Adaptations

  • Aquatic Ungulate
  • With eyes, nostrils and ears located high on the head, hippos can see, hear and breathe while staying almost totally submerged. Hippos can stay completely underwater for five to six minutes. Their body weight distribution and webbed feet allow them to move easily in water. Hippos cannot sweat, so submerging in water or covering themselves with mud helps keep their bodies cool during the heat of the day.
  • Hippo Sunscreen
  • Despite thick skin, hippos can get sunburned. Glands in their skin secrete a reddish substance that acts like a natural sunscreen. This substance also has antibacterial properties that help injuries heal quickly. Staying in the water during the daytime also protects hippos from the sun.
  • Calling All Hippos
  • Hippos communicate using a resonant call – a deep bass rumbling sound that can be heard over long distances. Underwater, hippos also make clicking sounds that may announce their presence in murky waters.
  • Muck-Spreading
  • Hippos practice “muck-spreading” which occurs when the tail is vigorously wagged during defecation. This action scatters feces in a wide range and may serve to mark territory or mark trails from the water to their grazing areas.

Physical Description

  • Hippos have a head-body length up to 12 feet (4.3 m) long.
  • Females weigh about 2,800 pounds (1260 kg), males are larger weighing 3,200-6,400 pounds(1,440-2,800 kg).
  • Hippos have gray to slate brown skin that is up to two inches thick. There are patches of pink on the face and stomach.
  • They have a plump, bulky body with stubby legs and feet with webbed toes.
  • They have a wide head with eyes, nostrils and ears set on top.

Diet

What Does It Eat?

In the wild:
Grasses

At the zoo:
Grass, hay, grain, plus vitamin and mineral supplements

What Eats It?
Crocodiles, lions, hyenas, and leopards prey on young hippos.

river hippos being vocal

Social Organization

River hippos live in mixed groups of up to 15 animals. During periods of drought, larger groups form around available water sources. Adult males establish and defend narrow territories consisting of a stretch of water and the adjacent land. Males are aggressive in defending their territory and the females in their harem. Hippos use their long canine teeth as weapons, and death often results from fighting between males. Most adult male hides are covered with scars from such fighting. Although hippos are gregarious, they do not appear to form strong social bonds except for females and their calves.

Life Cycle

Females are sexually mature at four to 10 years of age and males at seven to 12 years of age. After a gestation of eight months, females give birth to a single calf in the water. Infants even suckle under water. They nurse for six to eight months, but start eating grass at about three weeks. Calves remain with their mothers up to eight years until they are full grown. Hippos live 30-40 years in the wild and up to 50 years in captivity.

African Lion

Panthera leo melanochaita

Lions are the most social of all cats. They are the only cats that live in large family groups called “prides” consisting of four to 12 related adult females with their offspring plus two to three unrelated adult males. Lions also hunt in groups using stalking and ambush techniques. Females do most of the hunting. All members of the pride share in the kill, with males eating first followed by females and then cubs. Males protect the females and cubs from other lions and hyenas.

Classification

CLASS:Mammalia
ORDER:Carnivora
FAMILY:Felidae
GENUS:Panthera
SPECIES:leo

Habitat & Range

African lions are typically found in savannas, plains, grasslands, dense bush and open woodlands where prey is abundant.  They can also be found in smaller numbers in semidesert and mountain habitats.

This species can be found in most countries of sub-Saharan Africa, primarily inhabiting eastern and southern Africa up to elevations of 13,700 ft. (4,200 m).

Location

Map of Africa

Adaptations

  • Group social behavior allows for protection, success in raising offspring and ability to obtain food.
  • Large manes make males look bigger which may intimidate rivals, attract females and protect their throat from another lion’s attack.
  • Soft foot pads and retractable claws allow lions to move quietly when approaching prey. Lions have great forebody strength which enables them to bring down and hold prey sometimes with just a swipe of their larger front paws.
  • Lions’ night vision is highly developed. Eyes see in very low light (1/6th the light humans need).  A white circle below the eye reflects light also helping to see at night or early morning when lions tend to hunt.
  • Lion’s sense of smell, although less important than its sight or hearing, helps when hunting, finding kills of other predators and identifying scent marking of territories.
  • With relatively small hearts and lungs, when hunting lions rely on stalking prey and a short chase, reaching a top speed of about 35 mph (56 kph).
  • Long tails have a black tuft of fur at the end used to communicate with each other on a group hunt and used by females to signal cubs to follow them. Lions are the only cats with a tufted tail.
  • Lions are both an apex predator (top of the food chain) and a keystone predator (critical to the health of their ecosystem).
  • Lions, like all big cats, can roar. Both males and females roar to communicate their territory and communicate with group members.  The lion’s roar is the loudest of all big cats and can be heard up to 5 miles (8 km) away.  Lions also roar the most of all big cats – sometimes considered habitual roarers.

Physical Description

  • Lions are the second largest of the four big cat species (also includes tigers, leopards and jaguars). Lions are well-muscled with long bodies and large heads.
  • Male average height at the shoulder is about 4 ft. (1.2 m), females about 3.5 ft (1.0 m). Body length ranges from 5.5 to 7 ft. (1.6 to 2.1 m) with tails 2 to 3 ft. long (0.6 to 1.0 m).
  • Male weight ranges from 330 to 550 lbs. (150 to 250 kg), females 265 to 395 lbs. (120 to 180 kg).
  • Fur of a lion is short and typically a tawny color, but also can be buff yellow, orange-brown, white-gray and dark brown. Underbody is white, also white around mouth, chin and inside of legs.
  • Cubs have rosette spots which fade as they mature.
  • Lions are the only cats with manes. The male’s mane, an example of sexual dimorphism (differences in appearance between males and females), can vary from a short fringe to full and shaggy covering the back of the head, neck, and on to the shoulders throat, chest and belly.  In hotter, drier climates males may have no mane.  Mane color ranges from blonde to black, typically darkening with age.
  • Lions are digitigrade walkers (walk on toes). Soft paws are large with long, sharp, retractable claws measuring up to 1.5 in (38 mm) in length.  Five toes on front (fifth is a dewclaw) and four on the back.
  • Lions are visual animals (sight hunters). Amber eyes with round pupils are the largest of all carnivores.
  • Lion tongues are covered in backward curving spines called papillae, used to scrape meat from bone and to groom themselves.
  • Lions have a strong bite (690 lb. pressure compared to 171 lb. for humans). Incisor teeth grip and tear meat, canine teeth (largest) rip skin and tear away meat, carnassial teeth (sharpest) are used like scissors to cut meat.  Jaws can hinge open to 11 in (28 cm) wide.

Diet

What Does It Eat?

In the wild:
As carnivores, African lions are specialized communal predators of medium- to large-sized ungulates.  Typical prey includes antelopes, gazelle, warthogs, zebra, wildebeest and sometimes Cape buffalo, giraffe and young elephants.  When prey is scarce, lions will consume almost any animal and scavenge off the kills of predators such as cheetahs or hyenas.  In semi-arid habitats, they will also consume plants for water.

At the zoo:
Ground meat fortified with nutrients is fed five times a week.  Once a week on a fast day, the lions are fed large bones.  Also, once a week they are fed large carcass pieces of beef shank or rabbits.  Sometimes on carcass day, a carcass piece up to 200 pounds is shared as a group followed by fasting for several days after.

What Eats It?
Humans hunt lions as trophies, for bushmeat and for body parts. Lions are also killed due to human conflict from increased agricultural development of wild habitats.  The old and sick and very young lions not carefully watched by their mothers can be killed by hyenas, leopards and other predators.

Social Organization

Lions are social animals typically living in family groups called prides which can include up to three adult males and a dozen or so females and their young.  However, prides up to 40 individuals have been recorded.   All females in a pride are related and females will typically stay with their birth group as they age.  Males leave their birth group around 2 years old when large enough to compete with the dominant male(s).  These males will form small coalitions with other males, typically with their brothers. Coalitions hunt together and look for females to form their own pride, sometimes challenging the resident male in an established pride.  In a pride, lionesses are the primary hunters and the males’ primary role is defending the pride and its territory.  An individual male will dominate a pride for an average of 2.5 years when younger males aggressively displace him to gain access to pride females.  Cubs are at the bottom of pride pecking order and the last to share in the kill.

Life Cycle

Lion average life span is 15 years but can live up to 30 years in human care.  Lions breed year-round and are usually polygamous.  While males are sexually mature at about 2 years, they are unlikely to breed until 4 or 5 years old.  Females mature at around 3 years old.  Gestation is about 108 days and litters are usually 2 to 4 cubs.  Within a pride, females share parenting duties, including nursing each other’s cubs.  Cubs weigh between 2 and 4 lbs. (.9 – 1.8 kg) at birth and are born blind and helpless with thick fur and dark spots that disappear as they age.  Cubs are weaned at about 6 months but will eat meat starting at around 3 months.

Spotted Hyena

Crocuta crocuta

Spotted hyenas live in female dominated groups called clans. The females in the group are related to each other but the males are unrelated. Females stay with their natal clan for life. Males disperse when they reach adulthood and join nomadic groups before settling in with a new clan. There is a separate dominance hierarchy for each sex. The highest ranking female and her descendents are dominant over all other members of the group.

Classification

CLASS:Mammalia
ORDER:Carnivora
FAMILY:Hyaenidae
GENUS:Crocuta
SPECIES:crocuta

Habitat & Range

This species is found in a wide variety of habitats: savanna, open woodland, dense dry woodland, montane and semi-desert.  It is not found in extreme desert conditions, the highest mountain altitudes or tropical rainforests.

Spotted hyenas range widely throughout Africa south of the Sahara up to 13,500 ft. (4,100 m).  Populations are concentrated in eastern and southern Africa, primarily in protected areas.

Location

Map of Africa

Adaptations

  • Large social groups help to provide protection, food and survival of young.
  • Their brain’s large frontal cortex is associated with superior problem-solving skills.
  • Strong jaws, teeth and digestion allow them to eat entire carcasses including skin, hooves, ligaments, horns, hair and bones.
  • Spotted hyenas possess a variety of communication techniques. They have a large range of vocalizations with over 11 different sounds including yells, howls, cackles and a “whoop” that sounds like laughing to humans.  Some vocalizations are loud enough to be heard several miles away.  A complex set of body postures are also used in communication with other hyenas.
  • To mark territory, their anal glands produce a pungent substance which is unique in chemical makeup to each individual. Urine and feces are also used to mark territory sometimes depositing feces in a communal “latrine” at the edge of their territory.
  • Large heart and lungs allow them to run up to 37 mph for long distances in pursuit of prey.
  • Females have more testosterone than the males making them more muscular and aggressive.
  • Mostly nocturnal, their night vision and hearing are excellent.

Physical Description

  • Hyenas bear some physical resemblance to wild dogs, but they are not canids. They are a separate family and more closely related to mongooses and meerkats.
  • Spotted hyenas are the the largest of four hyena species (spotted, brown, aardwolf, and striped hyenas). Weight ranges from 75 to 190 lbs. (34-86 kg).  Height at shoulders is 2.5 to 3 ft. (76-91 cm), body length ranges from 4 to 5 ft. (122-152 cm) and bushy tails are 10 to 14 in. (25-36 cm) long.  Female hyenas are a bit larger than the males.
  • Coat is short and coarse, ranging in color from sandy/yellow to grey/brown with black or dark brown spots.
  • Front legs are longer than hind legs giving their back a sloping appearance. Paws have four non-retractable claws on broad toe pads.
  • The head is large with round ears and a black muzzle. The neck is massive and a short, erect mane grows along the back of the head down the back.
  • Strong jaw muscles are attached to a prominent sagittal crest (bony ridge on top of skull) giving them one of the strongest bites for an animal their size – 1100 lbs. per square inch (compare human’s 162 psi).

Diet

What Does It Eat?

In the wild:
Spotted hyenas are carnivores that prey on animals of all types and sizes.  Although often portrayed as scavengers, they are highly intelligent, skilled hunters that obtain 50% to 90% of their diet from direct kills.  However, they are not picky eaters and will scavenge for food consuming carrion, bones, and vegetables.    Spotted hyenas are able to eat up to 35 lbs. of meat at a single feeding.

At the zoo:
Five days a week, each hyena is provided ground meat fortified with necessary nutrients.  Individuals get specific amounts that help to maintain a natural body condition.  Once a week, they get bones for a fast day, which they sometimes totally consume.  Once a week, they receive large pieces of carcass often rabbits or pork products.  On occasion, they receive larger pieces of carcass, around 100 pounds, as a group.

What Eats It?
Humans hunt spotted hyenas for meat, skins, and body parts for medicinal purposes.  Although they are seldom intimidated or preyed upon, their primary rival, lions, will kill them over battles for prey.

Social Organization

Spotted hyenas are social animals that live in groups called clans, which can number up to 100 individuals.  They typically hunt in groups for large prey, with larger clans breaking into smaller hunting packs.  Individuals may hunt alone when going after smaller prey.  Spotted hyenas live in a complex matriarchal society in which all females are dominant over males.  There is also a strict hierarchy among females and among males in a clan.  Females dominate hunts and females and their cubs eat before the males.

Life Cycle

Spotted hyenas live into their mid-teens in the wild and up on average into their early twenties in human care.  Maturity is around three years with females maturing later than males.  Mating is polygamous and controlled by females.  Gestation is 110 days and typical liters are typically one to three cubs and only two usually survive.  Cubs are well-developed at birth weighing about two pounds, with black fur, tiny teeth and eyes open.  Cubs are raised in communal nurseries although each mother nurses her own cubs. Weaning takes place between 12 and 18 months and cubs begin eating small amounts of meat at 5 months. Offspring inherit their social rank below their mothers.  Females will stay with their birth group and males will leave to join other clans.

Linne’s Two-toed Sloth

Choloepus didactylus

Sloths are so sedentary that algae grow on their long fur. The greenish color of the algae provides camouflage that helps sloths blend into the rainforest canopy. Their fur actually has groves in each strand that allow algae to grow and collect. They sleep 15-20 hours a day and often remain motionless even when awake. They feed at night when they are protected by darkness.

Classification

CLASS:Mammalia
ORDER:Xenartha
FAMILY:Megalonychidae
GENUS:Choloepus
SPECIES:didactylus

Habitat & Range

Tropical rainforest canopies in lowland and montane forests. This species is strictly arboreal.

Central America and northern South America, including Colombia, Venezuela, Suriname, the Guianas, Brazil, and the upper Amazon basin of Ecuador and Peru. It ranges from sea-level up to 8,000 feet (2,438 m).

Location

Map of Americas

Adaptations

  • Arboreal Lifestyle
    Sloths are adapted for life in the treetops. Their long curved claws provide a powerful grip as they hang from branches. At night they move slowly through the trees eating leaves, shoots and fruit. They sleep hanging in the trees with their arms and legs close together and their head tucked between their limbs that makes them look like part of the tree. They mate in the treetops and give birth hanging upside down in the trees.
  • Slow, Slow Motion
    Sloths are the world’s slowest mammals. Everything about them is slow! They move slowly along branches with a deliberate hand-over-hand motion. They have the lowest variable body temperature of any mammal, from 75 to 86 degrees F. (24-30 degrees C.). Their digestive system is so slow that they only come down from the trees about once a week to urinate and defecate.
  • Can You See Me Now?
    Sloths are so sedentary that algae grow on their long fur. The greenish color of the algae provides camouflage that helps sloths blend into the rainforest canopy. Their fur actually has groves in each strand that allow algae to grow and collect. They sleep 15-20 hours a day and often remain motionless even when awake. They feed at night when they are protected by darkness.

Physical Description

  • Two-toed sloths are 20-26 inches (50-65 cm) long.
  • They weigh from eight to 20 pounds (4-9 kg).
  • They have short fine under fur and an overcoat of six-inch (15 cm) long more coarse hair that is grayish-brown in color.
  • They have highly modified hands and feet with three to four inch (7.6-10 cm) curved claws on each appendage.
  • The head is short and flat, with a snub nose, rudimentary ears, and large eyes.

Diet

What Does It Eat?

In the wild:
Leaves, young shoots, blossoms and fruit.

At the zoo:
Plant materials, fruits, monkey chow and vitamins.

What Eats It?
Jaguars, ocelots and other cats prey on the two-toed sloth.

Social Organization

Sloths are solitary except mating pairs and females with young. Groups of females sometimes will occupy the same tree.

Life Cycle

The only time adult male and female Asian elephants interact is to mate. Males in musth, a hormonal period of high levels of testosterone accompanied by increased aggression, are especially attractive to receptive females.  Asian elephant gestation lasts approximately 22 months, the longest of any species.  Usually one calf is born weighing an average of 220 pounds (100kg).  Calves nurse for as long as four years although they begin eating vegetation at about six months. Young elephants become independent at about five years.  In their natural habitat, they become sexually mature between ten and fifteen years old.  In human care, maturity is somewhat earlier, possibly due to consistent nutrition and the absence of competition between males.  Life span in nature is difficult to determine.  In human care, the median life expectancy for female Asian elephants is 46.9 years.  The oldest Asian elephant in human care lived to be 86 years old.Sloths reach maturity at about two and a half years of age. Breeding occurs throughout the year and takes place up in the trees with the sloths hanging by their arms as they mate. After a gestation ten months, the female gives birth to a single young in the trees. The newborn sloth is 10 inches (25 cm) long and weighs 10-13 ounces (280-364 gm). The baby climbs onto the mom’s belly and clings while nursing for four to five weeks. Hiding in the mom’s fur provides protection for the vulnerable newborn. After 10 weeks the young begin to eat solid food. They remain with mom for nine months then move on to live on their own. Most of a sloth’s life is spent hanging upside-down. They descend to the ground to change trees (food sources) or to defecate (which is not often!). Lifespan in the wild is about 20 years and 30 to 40 years in captivity.The only time adult male and female Asian elephants interact is to mate. Males in musth, a hormonal period of high levels of testosterone accompanied by increased aggression, are especially attractive to receptive females.  Asian elephant gestation lasts approximately 22 months, the longest of any species.  Usually one calf is born weighing an average of 220 pounds (100kg).  Calves nurse for as long as four years although they begin eating vegetation at about six months. Young elephants become independent at about five years.  In their natural habitat, they become sexually mature between ten and fifteen years old.  In human care, maturity is somewhat earlier, possibly due to consistent nutrition and the absence of competition between males.  Life span in nature is difficult to determine.  In human care, the median life expectancy for female Asian elephants is 46.9 years.  The oldest Asian elephant in human care lived to be 86 years old.

Vampire Bat

Desmodus rotundus

Bats are the only mammals capable of sustained flight. The wings of bats are different than birds. Bats have a thin membrane of skin with bundles of elastic tissue and muscle fiber that is supported by the finger bones and extends to the arms and legs. The muscle fibers extend the wings and provide tension as the bats flap their wings in flight.

Classification

CLASS:Mammalia
ORDER:Chiroptera
FAMILY:Phyllostomidae
GENUS:Desmodus
SPECIES:rotundus

Habitat & Range

Caves, mines, hollow trees or abandoned buildings in deserts, tropical or subtropical regions.

Present in Mexico south to Brazil, Chile and Argentina, and occur up to about 7,800 feet (2,400 m) in elevation.

Location

Map of Americas

Adaptations

  • Just a Little Sip
    Vampire bats feed almost exclusively on blood from domestic animals. After landing on or near a potential food source, they use their razor sharp incisors to make a tiny, painless cut in the skin of the animal. Their saliva contains an anti-coagulant called “draculin” that keeps blood flowing from the wound. They do not suck blood but rather use their grooved tongue to lap up the free-flowing blood. A vampire bat may ingest up to 40 percent of its body weight while feeding. With such a huge increase in body weight, vampire bats would not be able to fly after a meal if it were not for their ability to rapidly process and digest the blood.
  • Ultrasonic Navigation
    Common vampire bats are active only during the darkest hours of the night. In the darkness, they use echolocation to find food and to avoid collisions when flying. Bats produce ultrasonic (high frequency) sounds that are not audible to humans. Echolocation is the ability to bounce these sound waves off objects so the returning sound waves provide information about food sources and potential hazards. Vampire bats also have very good hearing, excellent vision and a well-developed sense of smell, all of which aid in finding food.
  • I Can Fly!
    The wings of bats are different than birds, as a result bats are the only mammals capable of sustained flight. Bats have a thin membrane of skin with bundles of elastic tissue and muscle fiber that is supported by the finger bones and extends to the arms and legs. The muscle fibers extend the wings and provide tension as the bats flap their wings in flight, then fold the wings in when they rest.

Physical Description

  • The vampire bat’s head and body length is two to three inches (6.5-9 cm).
  • They weigh one-half to one-and-a-half ounces (15-45 g).
  • They have a grizzled, gray-brown, furry coat.
  • They have an eight-inch (20 cm) wingspan.
  • They have a short rounded muzzle, large ears, and a thumb claw on the front of the wing.

Diet

What Does It Eat?

In the wild:
Blood from domestic animals such as cows, donkeys, pigs and horses.

At the zoo:
Beef blood.

What Eats It?
Eagles, owls and hawks prey on the vampire bat.

Group of vampire bats upside down

Social Organization

Bats are very social animals living in colonies of hundreds or even thousands of bats. Within the colonies there are subgroups consisting of breeding males with around twenty females and their offspring. Bats spend hours grooming themselves and social grooming usually takes place between closely related females, or females and their young. Bats will even share blood with other colony members who weren’t successful at finding prey.

Life Cycle

Vampire bats are sexually mature at nine months of age. Mating occurs year round, and pregnant bats roost together in a nursery group. After a gestation of 205-214 days, females give birth to a single pup weighing about two-tenths of an ounce (5-7 g); twins are rare. The mother carries the pup for the first few days of life. Pups feed primarily on the mother’s milk for the first month using specialized milk teeth. At two months of age, the pups begin getting regurgitated blood, and at about four months of age the pups begin accompanying their mother to feed on blood. At nine months the pup is mature, males will leave the roost, and females stay with their mother’s roost. Vampire bats live up to nine years in the wild and up to 20 years in captivity.

Asian Small-Clawed Otter

Aonyx cinerea

These otters have very short claws that do not extend past the fleshy pads of their partly webbed toes making their forepaws very dexterous. They forage with their sensitive paws to locate prey in murky water or mud. They also have stiff whiskers called “vibrissae” that can detect the movement of prey in the water. They catch prey with their paws not with their mouth like other otters.

Classification

CLASS:Mammalia
ORDER:Carnivora
FAMILY:Mustelidae
GENUS:Aonyx
SPECIES:cinerea

Habitat & Range

Small-clawed otters adapt to a variety of aquatic habitats from tropical coastal wetlands to freshwater rivers and creeks as well as mountain streams and even rice paddies.

Southeast Asia from northern India to southeastern China, the Malay Peninsula and parts of Indonesia.

Location

Adaptations

Aquatic Adaptations

Otters have long streamlined bodies enabling them to swim rapidly and change direction quickly when pursuing prey. Their muscular tail helps propel them through the water when swimming fast and is also used like a rudder to help them steer. They close off their ears and nostrils when swimming and can dive underwater for 6-8 minutes at a time. They have dense fur consisting of two layers – a soft insulating under fur to keep them warm and an outer layer of waterproofed guard hairs to keep them dry.

Musky Warning

Otters communicate mainly through the use of scent marking to establish territorial boundaries. Scent glands near the tail deposit a strong musky scent on their feces. Their scent marked feces called “spraint” is then deposited on tree trunks, trails and rocks. They also communicate with a vocabulary of a dozen calls including a distress call used when they need help.

Claws, Paws and Whiskers

These otters have very short claws that do not extend past the fleshy pads of their partly webbed toes making their forepaws very dexterous. They forage with their sensitive paws to locate prey in murky water or mud. They also have stiff whiskers called “vibrissae” that can detect the movement of prey in the water. They catch prey with their paws not with their mouth like other otters.

Physical Description

  • Small-clawed otters have a head-body length of 18-24 inches (45-61 cm) with a 10-14 inch (25-35 cm) tail.
  • They weigh six to 12 pounds (2.7-5.4 kg).
  • They have long, slender bodies with dark gray-brown fur on their body and lighter cream-colored fur on the face and throat.
  • They have partially webbed toes and very short claws that do not extend past the fleshy pads of the toes.
  • They have broad cheek teeth, small ears and stiff whiskers.

Diet

What Does It Eat?

In the wild:
Fish, frogs, crabs, mussels, snails, crayfish, insects, snakes.

At the zoo:
Primarily a fish diet

What Eats It?
Aquatic predators such as crocodiles and large snakes.

Social Organization

Asian small-clawed otters are the most social of the otter species living in extended family groups of 12-20 individuals. Only the alpha pair breeds and previous offspring help raise the young.

Life Cycle

These otters form monogamous pairs for life. Breeding can occur throughout the year and mated pairs can have two litters per year. After a gestation of 60 days a litter of 1-6 (usually 2) pups are born in a nesting burrow dug into the muddy riverbank. Males help build the nest burrow and provide food after the pups are born. Otter pups are born relatively undeveloped with eyes closed weighing only two ounces (50 gm). They spend the first few weeks nursing every 3-4 hours. They open their eyes at about 40 days and begin venturing outside the den after about 10 weeks. They begin taking solid food at about 80 days, are weaned at about 14 weeks and can swim at about 3 months. They reach adult size in about 6 months. Lifespan in the wild is 11-16 years.