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.

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.