Going Batty on International Bat Appreciation Day

By Tessa Giannini, Animal Care Professional 

There are over 1,300 species of bats in the world which means there is an amazing variety in how they live, eat, and reproduce. The vast majority of bats are immensely beneficial to humans by providing free pest control from insects, pollinating and/or dispersing seeds for over 300 plants! At ZooTampa we have two species of bats: African straw colored fruit bats and Malayan Flying foxes.

Here are my top batty facts:

African straw colored fruit bats:

  1. They have the largest mammal migration of any species in the world and the furthest migration of any African mammal.
  2. The females will undergo delayed implantation which basically means after breeding in April/May the fertilized egg doesn’t implant in the bats uterus until several months later to coincide with increased food sources found during migration in October. The pup is then born February/March of the following year.
  3. They are the second largest bat species in Africa, after the hammer head bat.
  4. They get their name, “straw colored,” from the ring of golden yellow fur around their necks.
  5. They have a wingspan of 2-2.5 feet wide.

Malayan Flying foxes:

  1. They are one of the largest species of bats in the world, with a wingspan of 5-6 feet wide!
  2. Although they are large and may look intimidating, these bats eat only fruit, nectar, and flowers. They provide important ecosystem services by pollinating or dispersing the seeds of many different plant species.
  3. They do not use echolocation to find their food, but instead rely on their excellent vision and sense of smell.
  4. This species often makes a variety of vocalizations to communicate with one another.
  5. Malayan flying foxes are considered Near Threatened by the IUCN, although in certain parts of their range they are Vulnerable. Much of this has to do with humans and clearing of the bats native habitat and food sources.

The more you know:

  1. Insect eating bats can eat up to 1200 mosquito sized insects in just one hour!
  2. There are 41 different species of bats in the United States, and of these nearly half are either endangered or threatened.
  3. One of the largest threats to bats is white-nose syndrome (a disease that affects hibernating bats and is caused by a fungus).
  4. The smallest bat in the world (and also the world’s smallest mammal) lives in Thailand and is called a bumble bee bat. It is only as big as a thumbnail and weighs less than a penny.
  5. The Florida Bonneted Bat is Florida’s largest bat species, but it is also Florida’s most endangered bat.
  6. Pups are often 1/3 of moms size, this is equivalent to human mothers giving birth to 40 pound babies!

All bats are protected species and it is illegal to kill them. If you find bats in your home you can hire a pest control company to humanely exclude the bats.

In Florida exclusion may not take place between April 16-August 14 because this is prime “maternity season.” Moms leave their babies while they hunt for food and if an exclusion device is put up while the babies are too young to fend for themselves, they could starve without their mother. Florida Bonneted bats breed year round, so make sure the bat species is properly identified before putting up an exclusion device. If you find a bat that needs help call a licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility to help out.

You can visit our bats during your next visit in Wallaroo!

Save the Elephant Day

Written By: Christi Reiter

Happy Save the Elephant Day!

Elephants are incredibly intelligent and strong, but did you know they also play a huge role in the African savanna ecosystem? Elephants are known as a "keystone species", which means they shape the ecosystem that other African animal friends, like bird, monkey and hoofstock species rely on for survival.

Elephants can knock down trees easily which provides necessary resources to smaller animals who can't clear the trees themselves. They can also cut paths into thick forest habitats with ease, transform landscapes and use their tusks to dig wallows which provide food and water to other animals. Without elephants in Africa, a lot of other animals living there would struggle to survive!

Right now, due to illegal hunting and human conflict in Africa, our elephant friends really need your help! There are lots of ways you can lend a hand (or trunk):

  • Be a smart shopper- do not purchase ivory!
  • Recycle
  • Educate others
  • Visit your local zoo
  • Donate time and/or resources to elephant conservation.

Organizations like 96elephants.org are great because they help support elephant-friendly initiatives. These initiatives include, funding beehives or solar powered lights for farmers who frequently have conflict with wild elephants raiding their crops, they also help provide monitoring systems and support to rangers on the ground.

Do your part and #BeHerd. For more information visit 96elephants.org.

Stinkin’ cute

By Jaime Vaccaro, Animal Care Professional 

ZooTampa is home to nine Striped skunks. This family group comprises of Mia & Marcellus (Mom & Dad), along with their seven skunk babies, or "kits". When first born, kits are deaf and blind and nurse from their mom for up to two months. Most of Mia and Marcellus' kits opened their eyes and started to crawl at one month of age, and they have not stopped moving since!

Striped skunks are found only in North America. They live in every state in the United States, except Alaska and Hawaii. They are easily recognized by the white stripe pattern that runs down their back, from head to tail. The stripes start as a triangle at the head and break into two stripes down the skunk's back. Each skunk has a unique stripe pattern just like our finger prints.

This nocturnal species usually lives in underground dens/burrows that have been abandoned by other animals, or sleep in hollowed logs. Skunks are omnivores and enjoy eating rodents, insects, nuts and berries. They use their long claws to dig into logs and into the dirt to uncover insects. During feeding time at the Zoo, guests can watch as our skunk family emerge one by one from their den. Each skunk is separated into their own eating space or chute to ensure they are eating their own diet and prevent them from eating extra snacks from siblings.

Many people may not know this, but during the colder months in Florida, skunks exhibit a wintering behavior. During this time, their food consumption decreases and they rarely come out of their dens. When they emerge in the spring, they are very active and hungry!

Although our skunk family is very curious and enjoy exploring new things they do not like surprises due to their awesome defense mechanism. They have scent glands near their tails that contain about a tablespoon of pungent spray that can hit a target 15 feet away! Typically, a skunk will try to run from a predator first, but if that doesn't work, it will try to frighten the predator by arching its back and raising its tail.  As a last resort the skunk will then spray.

A Family Plus annual Zoo membership makes it easy for your family to visit this striped skunk family in the Florida realm of the Zoo!

A pack that stays together

Written by: Ashley Gaia

One of ZooTampa’s newest growing families is the African painted dogs. This growing family is critical, as African painted dogs are an endangered species. For the month of February, we are giving you the inside scoop on how their pack works together and what makes them so unique.

Painted dog society is complex and cooperative. Packs range from around 6-12 individuals, however packs of 30-50 have been documented. Each pack has an alpha male and female, chosen by the pack for their ability to lead versus their size. The painted dog is one of the greatest predators in Africa. Working as a team, the pack brings down their prey, quickly fill their bellies and rush back to their dens. There, they will regurgitate some meat to feed any puppies or dogs that need extra care.

African painted dogs are genetically unique in the world of canids. One of the features that sets them apart from other canids is their feet, they have four toes per paw instead of five! They also have specially adapted carnassial teeth that help slice meat and bone more efficiently.  All painted dogs have big round ears, a dark muzzle, and white tipped tails. The rest of the coat is mottled in splotches of ebony, white, and golden tans. Every dog has a unique pattern, just as unique as our finger prints!

Our own painted dog family is excelling at parenthood. When the puppies were first born, Dad, Hatari quickly mastered his role of staying close to the den to be a literal “watch dog” while mom, Layla devoted all of her time into raising, and wrangling, their puppies inside their den.

Currently, the puppies are doing well and growing larger every day! At almost 5 months old, these guys are weighing well over 20 pounds each and they consume roughly 15 pounds of meat every single day. This family enjoys devouring shanks, whole rabbits, and whole chicks on a regular basis. The pups are quite playful at this age and are often seen chasing each other around their yard, wrestling, playing tug of war with palm fronds or sticks, or taking a quick dip in their pool. They are getting braver and more independent and can frequently be seen running or playing without mom close by.

Your own “pack” can have fun at the zoo and watch these puppies grow all year with a Family Plus Membership. For more information click here.

Oh deer, it’s a blue duiker!

By Amanda Wright, Animal Care Professional

Oh Deer - well not quite! This Bambi look-a-like is actually a blue duiker and not related to a deer at all!

Duikers are African antelopes, and blue duikers are the smallest of all duiker species. The main difference between deer and antelopes involves the protrusions on their head. While deer have branched antlers that are shed and regrown annually, antelopes such as the blue duiker have non-branched, permanent horns.

Blue duikers stick to forest environments where they can use the trees and vegetation to easily hide from predators. In fact, the word “duiker” is derived from the Afrikaans word meaning “diver”. This name is suitable because as a defense mechanism, duikers dive into vegetation whenever they feel threatened.

Here at ZooTampa, you can find blue duikers in the Hornbill Aviary, which is located in the Africa section of the Zoo. If you look closely, you might even see a smaller duiker running around. Your eyes are not deceiving you. Emerald, our female blue duiker, recently had a calf! Blue duiker calves are very precocial, and can run within 20 minutes of being born! They spend their first few weeks hunkering down in safe spots, but as they get older, they also become more playful and inquisitive. Soon, you will be able to see this little calf running, jumping, and chasing after mom as she explores the world around her.

Deer or not, there’s no denying how cute these little antelopes are! Next time you’re at ZooTampa, be sure to swing by the Hornbill Aviary and see if you can spot our elusive blue duiker family.

Koala-ty Facts

ZooTampa is thrilled to launch the Koala Photo Encounter Presented by the Yob Family Foundation. Guests will get up-close to an adorable koala for a koala-ty photo! Families will be eye-to-eye with the Zoo’s male koala, Heathcliff. Before your adventure, here are ten fascinating facts!

  1. What’s in a name?

It’s believed that this adorable animal gets their name form an Aboriginal word, which means ‘no drink’. Koalas get most of their moisture from the leaves they eat, and barely drink water.

 

  1. They come from a land down under!

Koalas live primarily in forests and woodlands dominated by eucalyptus in Australia.

 

  1. Not koala-fied to be a bear.

Koalas are mammals with round, fuzzy ears, but they are not bears. They’re members of  a group of pouched animals called marsupials.

 

  1. Vege-mates.

Both males and females can be territorial and display a range of behaviors to establish dominance or initiate breeding. They use scent marking – either with urine or with a scent gland in the chest of males or with vocalizations ranging from grunts, snarls, wails, groans, and bellows.

 

  1. Joeys are the size of jellybeans!

After a 33-36 day gestation period, the koala gives birth to an embryo the size of a jellybean. The ‘joey’ then makes the journey to mom’s pouch where it continues to develop for about 6 months. In the beginning, joeys are blind and earless so they rely on their natural instinct plus strong sense of touch and smell to find their way from the birth canal to its mother’s pouch.

  1. They love you…calyptus.

A Koala’s diet consists mostly of eucalyptus. A portion of the encounter price helps care for koalas here at the zoo. Out of over 600 kinds of eucalyptus, koalas prefer to feed on less than 20% of them. Koalas use their sense of smell to find the least toxic leaves, even within the same branch.

 

  1. Pick your poison.

While eucalyptus leaves are poisonous to most animals, a koala’s digestive tract has special bacteria that breaks down toxic compounds and flushes them out quickly. This is important because it is also the reason why koalas are hard to treat for different infections.

 

  1. Zzzz’s and calories.

Due to their low calorie diet, Koalas save their energy by moving occasionally and sleeping almost 20 hours a day.

 

  1. Keeping up with Koalas.

This iconic Australian species is vulnerable to extinction due to habitat loss to human homes, forest fires and droughts. National pride has bolstered conservation efforts and independent states have increased awareness and legal protection of this marsupial.

 

  1. Koala-ty photos get all the likes!

While only zookeepers are allowed to touch koalas, ZooTampa is one of two places in the U.S. to offer the chance to get THIS close to koalas! The koala experience is offered only on Saturdays and Sundays at 11:30am. To book a Koala Photo Encounter click here.

New Year. New Theme.

Written By: Leah Miller

New Year, new theme. New Year resolutions can be hard to follow through with, instead choose one word that will be your “theme” for the year. This year for our 2019 blog series we chose the word “family.”  Each month, we will be focusing on the family dynamics of different animal families throughout the Zoo. The first Zoo family we are highlighting are the African elephants!

African Elephants live by a matriarchal system. This is where one female is the main elephant of the herd. This female is usually the oldest and most experienced out of everyone.

Our herd is unique, we do not have a matriarch, we have a circle hierarchy. Instead of having just one female in charge of everyone, all of our adult females are dominant over each other. Matjeka is dominant over Mbali, Mbali is dominant over Ellie, and Ellie is dominant over Matjeka. This is a very unique system and could change at any point!

Our herd also includes two adorable juvenile females. These young girls do not have a place in the hierarchy system yet. Over time they will fall into the hierarchy. Right now, their job is to learn from their mothers and other adult females on birthing and caring for young.  As their mothers birth more offspring they will become the “babysitter” to those younger siblings and cousins. This is important because it teaches them the roles of being a first-time mother.

Even though African Elephant females play an important role in the herd, another important role is that of the male elephants. As juveniles, they socialize and live in the herd with the females, but as they grow into adolescents they will slowly be pushed out. Male African Elephants can live a solitary life or in a small bachelor herd. When they are ready to breed, they will venture out to find a herd of females. After they are done breeding they will return to their bachelor herds not taking the responsibility of raising the calf. Our male, Sdudla, actually socializes with our females on a regular basis which allows for the calves in our herd to learn the normal social interactions males and females will have.

Bring your families and get up-close to our herd of African elephants while on the Expedition Africa Safari Tram. You can even get a closer look at the largest land animal on earth during an African Elephant Backstage experience, book one HERE.

Birdy Spotlight: Emu

Written By Animal Care Professional Amanda Wright

What do you see in your mind’s eye when you think of a bird? Maybe you picture a majestic eagle swooping through the sky, or a delicate wren flitting soundlessly through the trees? Perhaps you see a colorful parrot, or maybe even a vulture making lazy circles high up in the air. You probably didn’t picture an animal bigger than you, with powerful legs, big stomping feet, and the inability to fly… but this is exactly the kind of bird that we are going to celebrate this month.

As the Year of the Bird begins to wind down, let’s take a few minutes to appreciate the awesome adaptations of ratites! No, we’re not talking about rodents – ratites are a group of flightless birds that include ostriches, cassowaries, rheas, kiwis, and the star of this blog: emus! The word ratite stems from a Latin word meaning “raft”, and has to do with their flat, raft-like breastbone, which is different from the breastbone of flighted birds in that it lacks a “keel”.  A keel is an extension of the breastbone to which birds’ wing muscles can attach, allowing them to fly. Ratites don’t have this important skeletal component, which makes them unable to fly, but they have adapted to life on the ground quite well!

Here’s what makes emus are so special:

  1. Emus love water and believe it or not, they can swim! Emus are also the only birds in the world to have calf muscles. They are powerful runners and in a sprint, they can reach speeds of up to 30 miles per hour! These legs aren’t just for running, emus can deliver a powerful kick to defend themselves when necessary.
  2. Their feathers are just as unique as their legs! Emus have amazing feathers that look nothing like a typical bird feather. Emu feathers grow in pairs – each feather is actually split into two equally sized parts. Their feathers aren’t rigid either, they are actually quite soft and “droopy”. These feathers are black at the tips, which helps absorb sunlight and keep heat away from their bodies.
  3. Emus also make great dads! Once a female lays her large, dark green eggs, the male takes full responsibility for taking care of them. He will incubate them for as long as it takes for them to hatch (usually around 8 weeks) and during this time he will not leave them – not even to eat or drink! While incubating eggs, male emus can lose up to one third of their body weight. The only time he will stand up is to turn the eggs to make sure that they are evenly incubated.

Our very own emu, Elaine, can be seen in Wallaroo here at ZooTampa. If you’re lucky, you might even catch her taking a shower under her favorite sprinkler! Next time you visit, say hello to Elaine and see if you can recognize some of her adaptations in person!

Building a Pack with Seven New Puppies

Written by: Animal Care Professional Ashley Gaia, Africa Team

Last year, ZooTampa at Lowry Park welcomed an exciting new species called the African painted dog. A male and female pair, Hatari and Layla, came to us from Zoo Miami in hopes that they would begin growing a family of their own. On October 1st, our hopes were met with the addition of seven beautiful, squirmy puppies. There are several reasons why these puppies are so special!

African painted dogs (Lycaon pictus) are genetically unique in the world of canids. One of the features that sets them apart from other canids is their feet, they have four toes per paw instead of five! They also have specially adapted carnassial teeth that help slice meat and bone more efficiently.  All painted dogs have big round ears, a dark muzzle, and white tipped tails. The rest of the coat is mottled in splotches of ebony, white, and golden tans. Every dog has a unique pattern, just as unique as our finger prints!

Painted dog society is complex and cooperative. Packs range from around 6-12 individuals, however packs of 30-50 have been documented. Each pack has an alpha male and female, chosen by the pack for their ability to lead versus their size. The painted dog is one of the greatest predators in Africa. Working as a team, the pack brings down their prey, quickly fill their bellies and rush back to their dens. There, they will regurgitate some meat to feed any puppies or dogs that need extra care.

Currently, our own painted dog family is excelling at parenthood. Hatari quickly mastered his role of staying close to the den to be a literal “watch dog” while Layla is devoting all of her time into raising, and wrangling, their puppies inside their den. For the last month, animal care staff has been heavily feeding Hatari so he can supply food to his growing family. At this time, Layla is allowing the puppies to begin to explore the habitat little by little. The puppies are rapidly learning the rules of fair play, tumbling together and pouncing on sticks and leaves. When Layla sees the pups getting too excitable, she ushers them back into the den to calm down and nap. It won’t be long until the whole family is out exploring the habitat in full and playing together!

The birth of these puppies is critical, as African painted dogs are an endangered species. Threats such as habitat fragmentation, car strikes, diseases from domestic dogs, and illegal snares have diminished this species to around 6,000-7,000 individuals. Here at ZooTampa, we work closely with organizations in Africa that are fighting for the survival of wild painted dogs. We sell recycled snare wire sculptures in our gift shop, with the proceeds going to saving this incredible species. To learn more, join us at the painted dog habitat every day at 10:45am for our keeper chat, and help us on our mission to preserve and protect wildlife!

World Okapi Day

ZooTampa at Lowry Park has supported Okapi conservation in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for over 10 years as a partner of the Okapi Conservation Project (OCP).  The Okapi Conservation Project has a long history of engaging the local communities, living in and around the Ituri Forest, to conserve and protect the remaining okapi and their habitat.

To celebrate World Okapi Day, the Democratic Republic of Congo has a huge celebration filled with a parade, a race, soccer matches, educational talks and prizes. ZooTampa is one of the sponsors of this event and it honors the local community’s support of okapi conservation. This celebration will take place in each of the five surrounding villages of the Ituri Forest where wild okapi live.

This is just one way that ZooTampa is working to save this incredible species around the globe.