Best Instagram Spots at ZooTampa presented by Metro by T-Mobile

Making memories while connecting to wildlife and each other is frequently stated as a top reason why families love to visit ZooTampa.  Now, in a partnership with Metro by T-Mobile, guests can relive their favorite memories with select "picture perfect" spots located throughout the Zoo.  The Best Instagram Spots at ZooTampa guarantees families and fans have no guesswork when selecting their ideal picture locations. We're delighted to offer this perk to our guests through our continued partnership with Metro by T-Mobile.

Following are the Best Instagram Spots at ZooTampa presented by Metro by T-Mobile. Visitors can tag #ZooTampa for a chance to have their post shared on the Zoo’s Instagram story.

  • Africa- Jasmine Doors
  • Asia- Komodo dragon statue
  • Florida- Birds of Prey wingspan
  • Primates- Orangutan habitat
  • Wallaroo- Petting Zoo

We encourage guests to discover amazing wildlife moments at ZooTampa and share them with family and friends around the globe!

World Rhino Day

Happy World Rhino Day, Zoo friends! ZooTampa is home to two rhinos species, the Southern white rhino and the Greater one-horn rhino also known as the Indian rhino.

Southern White Rhinos:

Written by: Christi Reiter

We have 6 white rhinos currently living at ZooTampa. They are the only rhino species that have broad flat lips that they use to pull grasses and low lying shrubs out of the ground. These guys are considered the lawn mowers of the African savanna and they can eat upwards of 100 pounds of food a day. Just think of our grocery bill! Rhinos have two large horns on the front of their faces which are made from keratin. This is the same material as your hair and finger nails! Due to this material, the horn can be molded and shaped however the rhino chooses. If you come visit our crash, you will see each of our rhinos has their own unique horn that they shape on objects throughout the yard such as logs, the ground, or rhino sized toys. They have their own styles - just like you and I!

Ongava is our large male who enjoys scratches from animal staff and getting muddy in wallows around the yard. We have 3 adult females, Kidogo, Fujo, and Alake, who all have different personalities but all enjoy getting snacks, attention, and new toys! Our two young rhinos, Kipenzi (3) and Amare (1) just celebrated a shared birthday on September 12th. We gave them extra special goodies and we made sure to sing happy birthday when they came out in the yard.

Greater One-Horned Rhinos:

Written by: Jenny Bell

ZooTampa is also home to two Greater One-Horned (or “Indian”) rhinoceroses, Johnny and Jamie.  Greater One-Horned (GOH) rhinos are called this because they only have one horn, making them true, living unicorns!  The largest of the rhino species, GOHs can reach heights of just over 6 feet tall and typically weigh between 4-6,000 lbs. While visiting, you may notice that our GOH rhinos look like they are covered in plates of armor. This thick skin provides protection for them, but they still have a lot of nerve endings and blood vessels near the surface that help them maintain a constant body temperature.

Living in primarily swamps and forested areas, Greater One-Horned rhinos have several adaptations that make surviving in this environment easier. They have semi-prehensile top lips that are pure muscle, and help them grasp leaves and fruits that grow on trees.  Johnny and Jamie often use those lips to make sure they don’t drop any tasty snacks during feeding time!  Greater One-Horned rhinos are also semi-aquatic and are great swimmers. You can often find Johnny enjoying his pool during the heat of the day. Our female, Jamie, prefers to “wallow” instead and take mud baths that protect her skin from bugs and the sun. Much like our fingernails after a lot of time in the water, the keratin in rhino horn softens from all that soaking. This makes it much easier for GOH rhinos to “manicure” their own horns, and they often tend to keep them much shorter than other species.

In the early twentieth century it was estimated that only 200 Greater One-Horned rhinos remained in their native habitat. Luckily, Indian and Nepalese governments and wildlife authorities banded together to increase protection of this amazing and unique animal. There are now about 3,500 GOH rhinos, making them the only species to be increasing in number!  All rhino species need our protection, but the GOH rhino’s story can give us hope that positive change can happen.

You can visit both rhino species during an Up-Close Signature encounter! In honor of #WorldRhinoDay, symbolically adopt a rhino here.

Lowland Nyala

Written by: Blayne Selley

The first thing most people notice about Lowland Nyala is their striking red coat embellished with white stripes. Nyala’s stripes act as camouflage and are actually their best form of protection against predators like African painted dogs, hyenas, and leopards. These stripes mimic the sunlight peeking through the South African forests and riverbank thickets that nyala call home. Not only do the forests provide camouflage for nyala, but they also provide a balanced diet. Nyala are unique because they are both grazers and browsers, meaning they snack on both the grasses on the ground and the leaves, seeds, and fruits on the trees. Nyala can find food in a wide variety of locations and landscapes, making it easy for them to relocate and aiding in their year-round survival.

Another notable characteristic of nyala is their sexual dimorphism. This means that the males and females look completely different from one another. While the females display a beautiful copper-colored coat, the males feature a shaggy, gray coat and large spiral horns. The males are much larger than the females and are usually solitary, while the females stay in small herds. Both male and female nyala have large, bushy tails with a white underside. Nyala can flash this white underside of their tails as a warning sign to other members of their herd when danger is near. Nyala can also be heard communicating through vocalization that sounds very similar to a dog’s bark!

ZooTampa’s Africa section is home to a herd of six female and one male nyala. Recently, a new calf joined the herd – Miss Ohana! Ohana’s mom, Sahara, protects her by stashing her away in the bushes or low-lying trees, where she will spend most of her time for the first few weeks of her life. While it might be hard to spot Ohana for a while, the rest of the herd can be seen wandering around investigating new items, munching on leaves and grasses, and enjoying the shade of nearby trees.

Keep an eye out for these masters of disguise on your next visit to Africa! You can symbolically adopt a nyala here.

Fall Events

Summer was an exciting time at ZooTampa! After spending seven months in mom’s pouch, we officially got a full glimpse of Tampa’s newest furry resident, a healthy koala “joey”. The boy, named Sydney, is the first koala born at the Zoo and is part of our effort to conserve koalas through the Species Survival Plan. We also launched a new giraffe “meet and greet” experience that not only brings our guests eye-to-eye with the world’s tallest animal but also offers a unique opportunity to participate in a training session with one of our Animal Care professionals! These experiences highlight our mission to connect our guests with amazing animals that moves them to preserve and protect wildlife.

Looking ahead to autumn, the fun and adventures do not slow down. In September, we open our doors to members of The Florida Aquarium and MOSI as SWAPtember returns. This special benefit allows members of all three Tampa attractions to ‘swap’ memberships and experience all of the fun each has to offer! On the 21st of the month, we are proud to host the inaugural ZooTampa IRONKIDS presented by AdventHealth. The family event gives young athletes the thrill and excitement of competition while enjoying up-close interactions with some of the Zoo’s iconic animals.

Meanwhile, we‘ve started the transformation of the Zoo into Tampa Bay’s number one Halloween eerie family fright fest. The critically acclaimed Creatures of the Night returns on Fridays and Saturdays in October with more spooky scares and creepy frights for ghouls and goblins of all ages. The Zoo stays open late as a colorful cast of spooky characters, fearsome animals and immersive Halloween adventure zones take over to provide unforgettable eerie frights for the whole family. Unlike other Halloween events in the Tampa Bay area, ours is truly family-focused with just enough delightfully spooky and lighthearted startles to keep everyone laughing and entertained.

As we approach the end of the year, we look forward to the opening of the Sandy and Tom Callahan Center for Wildlife Conservation which will give guests a glimpse into the work we do to rescue, rehabilitate and care for animals from Florida and around the world. And, the year would not be complete without the return of one of Tampa’s most beloved holiday traditions, ZooTampa’s Christmas in the Wild. The event immerses guests into a world of seasonal cheer designed to create lasting holiday memories for the whole family.

It’s been a true “wild” year for us at ZooTampa and I remain grateful for the dedication of our team and enthusiastic support of our members and guests. I invite you to visit soon for memorable connections with wildlife and each other!

 

Joe Couceiro

President & CEO

 

National Iguana Awareness Day

Written By: Spencer Shultz

The Cuban iguana, like many lizards, are strong climbers with sharp claws and powerful legs.  This medium to large species, can grow up to 5 feet in length and weigh up to 7 kg (15lbs). Cuban iguanas have a dewlap which is an extra flap of skin below the chin on the neck that helps with temperature control and to attract the opposite sex.

Known by various names, including Cuban rock iguana and clouded rock iguana, these iguanas are native to Cuba and the Cayman Islands. They have also been introduced and found in Puerto Rico. While not endangered, Cuban iguanas suffer from habitat loss and predation by cats, dogs and pigs.

Our resident Cuban iguana arrived after he unintentionally boarded a ship entering the United States from Cuba. The animal exited the ship upon arrival in Florida and was found by US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and taken to a local partner facility.  Shortly after, the USFWS asked us to provide him with a permanent home.

To ensure a smooth transition to his new habitat, our team of animal care professionals worked with him using positive reinforcement training. Through this technique, our team rewarded him with special fruit treats when he remained calm. Over the past several months, he has gotten much more comfortable and will even let his keepers use tactile reinforcement, mainly a back scratcher, to bond with him. The bonding helps animal care staff move him comfortably from area to area when the habitat needs to be cleaned.  In the future, the development of this bond between the Cuban iguana and animal care staff will aid in conducting medical health check-ups with minimal stress or intervention. You can visit our Cuban iguana in his brand new habitat, found in Manatee Mangrove.

International Orangutan Day

Written By: Katherine Burton

 

Happy International Orangutan Day!  

Zoo Tampa is home to eight Bornean Orangutans who inspire staff, volunteers, and guests every day. You can easily spot these red-haired, great apes in the primate section of the zoo and learn more about them at our daily keeper chats.  

Let me introduce you to our Orangutan family.  

First up is Goyang. At 20 years old, he is the only adult male in the group. You can easily identify him by his large body size (315 lbs!), long hair, cheek pads, and throat sac. These characteristics are specific to males, making him stand out.  

Next up we have DeeDee, RanDee, and Dira. DeeDee is the oldest member of our group at 39 years old. She is mother to 11-year-old RanDee and 20-month-old Dira. At 11 years old, RanDee is in the adolescent stage of her life. She is learning how to be a mom through observation, and she spends much of her time playing with the younger members of the group. Dira is the youngest member of our group and spends most of her time holding on to mom or practicing her climbing skills while mom watches nearby.  

And finally, we have Josie, Hadiah, Gojo, and Topi. Josie is 34 years old and is both a mother and grandmother. Josie is mother to 13-year-old Hadiah and 3-year-old Gojo. And Hadiah is a first-time mother to 3-year-old Topi. Both moms have their own parenting styles and their kids spend much of their time playing with each other and interacting with other members of the group. 

Each individual has a unique personality, and all are wonderful ambassadors for their species. Today, we celebrate all three species of Orangutans (Bornean, Sumatran, and Tapanuli) and hope to encourage everyone to take action to protect the world’s largest tree dwelling mammal.  

Found in the forests of Indonesia and Malaysia, all species of Orangutans have suffered from decreasing populations resulting in a critically endangered classification. This is largely due to deforestation by the palm oil industry. Palm oil is a vegetable oil that can be found across a wide range of products such as food, cosmetics, household goods, and more. When it is grown unsustainably, new areas of forest are cut and burned, destroying the Orangutan’s habitat. However, sustainable palm oil is grown by re-using the same land for production.  

As consumers, we hold the power for change! Supporting sustainable palm oil will encourage more companies to make the change to sustainable production. You can download the Sustainable Palm Oil app on your smart phone and scan items while you shop. This will show you which products use sustainable palm oil, allowing you to make informed decisions while you shop.  

Together, we can ensure the survival of this species and that is what International Orangutan Day is all about! 

Action Indonesia Day

Written By: Marie Filipek

Today, ZooTampa will be celebrating the first ever “Action Indonesia Day”, joining over 38 organizations worldwide in the fight to save three important species: anoa, babirusa and banteng. Each of these species are only found in Indonesia and are an important part of their ecosystem. Unfortunately, all three of these species are threatened with extinction. By joining forces on “Action Indonesia Day,” we hope to raise awareness for these three incredible species, two of which call ZooTampa home: the anoa and the babirusa. We feel incredibly lucky to get to care for these species because only 7 AZA zoos care for anoa, and less than 20 AZA zoos care for babirusa, making them (in my opinion) some of Indonesia’s most mysterious animals!

One reason I like to think of anoa and babirusa as some of Indonesia’s most mysterious animals, is because there are still physical and behavioral characteristics of them that have scientists stumped! A babirusa’s most striking and defining feature are those curved tusks that grow through the top of their skull - but why that grow that way remains a mystery to scientists. They do have a couple ideas as to why, but neither has been proven quite yet. Do they grow that way to protect them in combat, like a football player wearing a helmet? Or are they used as display to court a female? As for anoa, these animals are so mysterious that not much is known about their day to day behavior in their natural environment. They tend to live in dense forests, so are quite elusive and hard to observe. It also remains a mystery as to whether or not there are two separate species of anoa. Scientists just aren’t sure!

Another reason these anoa and babirusa are some of Indonesia’s most mysterious animals is the fact that they are incredibly rare - there aren’t that many of them! Like I said earlier, not many AZA zoos have these two species, so not many people know about them. Also, these animals are naturally only found in Indonesia, no where else in the world, and their numbers are declining. There is an estimated 10,000 babirusa left and they have been categorized as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). As for anoa, there are estimated to be less than 2,500, classifying them as Endangered. Habitat loss and hunting are a source of decline for both species. Without our help, these animals could go extinct and all these mysteries would go unsolved.

 

However, what we can do to help is not a mystery at all - and that’s what “Action Indonesia Day” is all about! In 2006, the Action Indonesia Global Species Management Plan (GSMP) was created to bring together worldwide zoos, governments and conservation organizations to work together to save the anoa, babirusa, and banteng. By working together as a team, the GSMP can work toward creating healthy populations of animals in human care, share data and research between ex-situ (animals under human care at zoos, sanctuaries, etc) and in-situ (in the field) programs, and raise local and worldwide awareness for the conservation work being done to save these species. If you want to help save the anoa, babirusa and banteng you can visit ZooTampa to learn more about them and then simply spread the word about these amazing animals! If you’d like more information visitwww.actionindonesiagsmp.org. On August 18th, be sure to use #ActionIndonesia to share what you learned with your friends. Let’s do our part to make sure animals like anoa and babirusa are no longer a mystery!

Meerkat Family

Written By: Madison Underwood, Animal Care Professional

Meerkat families, also known as mobs, have a fascinating family dynamic. Meerkats are one of the few mammal species that take on specific roles to ensure the well-being of their family. Meerkat society is comprised of a hierarchy with females being at the top. Alpha females are the only member of the mob that may become pregnant. Thus, she is the heart and soul of the family. Below the alpha female is her mate, the alpha male, and the rest of the family act as betas. Furthermore, several meerkat families may live together in a large community, which then is called a manor.

Each meerkat plays a specific role in ensuring the survival of their family. While some members act as hunters and gathers to bring back food, others act as lookouts. These lookouts, or sentries, will watch the skies for birds of prey, such as hawks and eagles, that could steal them from the ground. While these few lookouts guard the group, others busy themselves foraging for food. Meerkat’s diet consists of insects, lizards, small rodents and various fruits. The last of the meerkat family act as burrowers. Meerkats utilize an extensive tunnel system to make up their home, with many of the tunnels being many feet underground to escape the heat.

Here at ZooTampa, we are home to four male meerkats: Peabody, Ranger, Sam and Ralphy! Our family dynamic is quite unique in that we do not have an alpha female. However, our meerkats do not seem to be affected as they still display all of the characteristics of a normal meerkat family. They can be seen foraging for their favorite waxworms, digging new tunnels to expand their home or lounging in the sun. Guests will often times comment on the lookout, as our meerkats love to stand on logs to get a better look at the sky!

You can find our meerkat family in the Africa realm of the Zoo. It's easy for your family to come back again and again with a Family Plus Membership - 2 adults, all dependent children + 1 free guest!

Flamingo Love

Written by: Animal Care Professional,  Micah Carnate

 

Summer is rolling into the blue skies overhead with the sun’s rays penetrating with its heat.  Along with the needed warmth after this past chilly winter and spring, the afternoon thunderstorms creep in to provide cool showers for all to enjoy, especially our very own flamboyance of Caribbean Flamingos! The introduction of these rainy seasons help to signify the beginning of many journeys of love, starting a family, and creating new life for all the flamingos around the world.

The first chapter in a flamingo’s journey is to find love.  At the start of the breeding season, flamingos prepare to become the best and most attractive dancers in their colony in order to catch an eye of a potential mate.  To do this, flamingos will first go through a quick molting event in which they lose their old feathers and grow in new vibrant pink feathers that drape from their backs.  Once they have their beautiful fancy feathers all in place, the flamingos are ready to show off their passion and romance in a ritual dance consisting of synchronized marching, head-flagging (turning their heads from side to side while stretching out their necks), loud short bursts of honking, and wing-flapping to show off all of their new colorful feathers.  Through this flashy dance, a female flamingo will choose the best male in the colony and both will begin to form their lifelong bond together and embark on their next chapter – starting a family.

An essential step before producing any offspring, the flamingo parents must work together to build a mound.  Contrasting to their bright pink feathers and fancy footwork in their courtship dance, they build their unexciting mounds (or nests) out of plain mud.  Typically, when you see flamingo mounds, they look like little volcanoes standing about 1 to 2 feet high to protect their eggs from any flooding from the rains and any heat from the ground. The mounds will also dip in the middle like a shallow bowl so the egg does not roll out at any point when mom or dad are incubating it.  After their mound is perfect to their standards, the female flamingo is ready to lay an egg!

The female flamingo will only lay one egg per year and both parents will be extremely devoted to the care of their chick for the next two months.  Mom and dad flamingos will each take turns sitting on the egg for 28 to 32 days until their chick emerges.  When the chick hatches, the chick will stay in the mound hiding under mom or dad for another 5 to 12 days and it is during this short time that the parents will be feeding it a milky substance called “crop milk.”  Crop milk is type of milk produced in the flamingo’s upper digestive tract.  It is highly possible that the parents may lose their pink color in their feathers during this time because most of the nutrition is given to the chick in the crop milk; however, once the chick is ready to fledge from the nest, both parents will be able to gain their bright pink colors back. While the family is on the mound, mom and dad become territorial and fend off any other flamingos from invading their space, providing their chick the ultimate protection.

At around the 12th day after hatching, the chick becomes a fledgling and begins to explore the immediate surroundings of their mound.  Mom and dad will still be nearby to keep an eye on their chick as it learns to walk and swim.  All the fledglings in the colony will then merge into a large grouping called a crèche, in which they get socialized into the flamingo community!  At this point, mom and dad will continue to watch over the group and feed their chick when it calls for them. Flamingos are a great example of exhibiting strong family bonds because despite a crèche possibly having hundreds of fledglings, both mom and dad are able to locate their own offspring by their distinctive vocalizations.  Juvenile flamingos will continue to grow up in the same colony with their parents.  At ages 3 to 5 years old, they will become mature and eventually begin their own life journeys.

 

Fla-mingle with these additional facts:

 

  • There are a total of six flamingo species around the world: Caribbean (or American), Andean, Chilean, James (or Puna), Lesser, and Greater.
  • Flamingos are social birds and live in colonies called flamboyances. Some flamboyance populations can reach well into the thousands or even tens of thousands!
  • The largest flamingo is the Greater Flamingo standing at 4 to 4.5 ft tall and weighing between 4.5lbs to 9lbs. The smallest flamingo is the Lesser Flamingo standing at 2.5 to 3 ft tall and weighing between 3lbs to 4.5lbs.
  • Flamingos get their pink colors from a pigment called carotenoids found in some of their favorite foods such as small crustaceans and algae.
  • Although no flamingo species are considered endangered, they still have declining numbers due to habitat loss from urban development.

 

A Family Plus annual Zoo membership makes it easy for your family to visit our flamingo flock in the Florida realm of the Zoo! You can learn more about memberships here.

 

Indigo Snake Release

Written By: Spencer Schultz

The Indigo is a beautiful black snake that has an iridescent blueish tint in the sun and a brown or orange chin. The Indigo, which often seeks shelter in Gopher tortoise burrows, can grow to between 8 and 9 feet long, and is the longest native snake in the U.S. The Indigo’s historic range included the southernmost tip of South Carolina, west through southern Georgia, Alabama, into eastern Mississippi, and throughout Florida. Today their range is far more restricted and this species is both state and federally listed as “threatened” due to habitat loss and habitat fragmentation.

In April we released 5 indigos snakes into the Alabama Conecuh National Forest as part of the indigo species recovery efforts spearheaded by Central Florida Zoo & Botanical Garden’s Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation (OCIC), and in collaboration with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resource, and the Conecuh Park Rangers. These snakes were part of the head start program, bred and hatched at the OCIC and then cared for at ZooTampa until they reached the appropriate size for release.  This season OCIC has passed an important half way point for their project goal of releasing 300 snakes. The site these snakes were release at is a historic site where these snakes have not been sighted since the 1950’s (before the OCIC project started).

My colleague Tyson and I, searched for Gopher tortoise burrows to release the snakes. Gopher tortoise burrows can be shelters to over 360 different species, making them a keystone species that help protect many others including the Indigo snakes. Gopher tortoise burrows are a natural shelter, they act as a home base for indigo snakes where they can hide from harsh weather and even find a meal in.

Once we found a gopher tortoise burrow, Tyson and I gently released the snake and watched it travel to its new home. It was bittersweet, we were sad to see it go, but ecstatic to know they’ll live on and contribute to the growth of the indigo snake population.

Indigo snakes feed on a variety of small animals, including many species that are considered pest species, like rats and mice. They are also venomous snake eaters and help keep populations of copperheads in check. This makes them an apex or top predator that is necessary for a healthy and balanced ecosystem. In other words, they are important to the environment.

What can you do to help?

  1. If you see them in your yard, leave them be. These snakes are non-venomous and act as a natural pest control, they can even get rid of venomous snakes.
  2. Visit ZooTampa! Each ticket and donation helps us in our mission to preserve and protect wildlife.
  3. Learn about the OCIC’s snake conservation initiatives.

The eastern indigo snake reintroduction project at Conecuh National Forest led by Auburn University is in its 13th year. The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources have provided funding over the course of the project through the State Wildlife Grants program. The US Forest Service manages the longleaf pine forest ecosystem with prescribed ecological fires.  Snakes for release are being bred at the Orianne Center for Indigo Conservation, a facility of the Central Florida Zoo and the Orianne Society.