You think you know Lions? Well, so did I until tonight. This is the first class of the Savannah Module for those of us who have already taken either the Children’s Zoo or Rainforest Module, or both.
If you’ve been following along, you know I just finished with the Children’s Zoo training. Brand-new Zoo Ambassadors started this module last week and you can read about what they learned in my Day One and Day Two blogs for the Children’s Zoo under the Volunteering tab on this website.
We have two lions here at the Oakland Zoo, brother and sister, rescued from a bad situation in Texas when they were just cubs. Here’s a quiz to test your knowledge about African Lions:
1. Are Lions the largest cat on the planet? A) Yes B) No
2. Do Lions chew their food? A) Yes B) No
3. Does the color of a male Lion’s mane tell his age? A) Yes B) No
4. Are Lions loners? A) Yes B) No
5. Are male Lions the hunters in their pride? A) Yes B) No
If you answered A to all of the above, Stacy Smith, one of our Keepers, has news for you: None of those statements is true.
Lions are the second largest cats with Siberian Tigers being first. They live in grasslands or woodlands, not jungles, so I don’t know where they got the King of the Jungle rep. If anything, Tigers are the Kings, but that’s another story.
Lions, like all cats, have scissor-like teeth that cut food so they can swallow it without chewing. The color and size of the male lions’ manes are determined by their genes, not their age, and help protect their necks and make them look bigger and more threatening to other Lions.
Unlike most other cats, Lions live in social groups, and the females are usually the hunters. They bring home the bacon, assisted by the males, but the males dine first. Cubs last. Go figure.
How can you tell a Lion is upset? Tail twitches, roaring and growling are hints that this is a Lion is not to be messed with. If you come across one lying on its back, with its ears flat and making puffing sounds…that one is mellow. A lion’s roar can travel five miles, which comes in handy when moms are calling their cubs home for dinner.
There are only about 20,000 Lions left in the wild because of hunting, poaching, and habitat loss. Keeper Stacy recommended we all go to www.lionconservationfund.org to learn more about how to help African Lions.
Mountain Lions here, like their African Cousins, hunt at the beginning and ends of the day, so we can protect them by staying off hiking trails at those times and keeping our pets protected to minimize human/Lion conflict.
The African Village
Next Lorraine Peters, one of our Primary Keepers, introduced us to the animals in our African Village.
Spotted Hyenas are fascinating and unique among the African species. Let’s see how much you already know about them:
1. Spotted Hyenas are scavenger animals because they have weak jaws.
A) Yes B) No
2. It’s easy to tell the males from the females by looking at them.
A) Yes B) No
3. Males dominate Hyena packs. A) Yes B) No
4. Hyenas laugh when they are: A) Amused B) Anxious
If you answered A for all of the above, you and I have a lot in common! But Lorraine set us straight. Hyenas are fearsome, fast hunters who can take down animals as large as wildebeests. Their jaws are more powerful than the Lions’, exerting up to 1200 pounds of pressure. And they are crafty: sometimes when they catch a large animal, they will hide it in water to cover up its smell so they can feast off it over a few days without losing it to others.
Hyenas get their reputation as scavengers because they eat the bones that other animals leave behind, but they are not like vultures: they prefer live prey and eat mostly meat.
It’s hard to tell the males from female hyenas by looking at them because both have similar-looking external sexual parts. Females dominate the males.
If you hear one of our hyenas laughing it is probably because a visitor is being too noisy: they make a laughing sound when they are worried agitated or upset, so keeping quiet is definitely the rule for visitors to our Hyena territory.
If you want to see our Hyena, look in one of the round plastic barrels, because that’s where they like to sleep in the daytime.
A Merry Mob of Meerkats
When Life Magazine first printed a photo of Meerkats I thought “Moon Mice,” they looked so strange. But Meerkat Manor brought them home to all of us so we feel we know all about them. Do you? Test yourself:
1.The black around Meerkat eyes is most like:
a) a raccoon’s b) a panda’s c) a football player’s
2. Meerkats are:
a) carnivores b) herbivores c) omnivores
3. Meerkats are conservation role models because:
a) they purify their own water b) they recycle their food c) they use solar energy for heat
4. Meerkats are most closely related to the:
a) Prairie Dog b) domestic cat c) mongoose
If you answered C to all of the above, you’ve been watching too much Animal Planet!
Living in large groups we call “mobs,” Meerkats have a social structure that could make ants stand up and take notice. Each one has a vital role to play. The Sentries watch the sky and ground—if they see a hawk or snake, one call from them sends all the others underground. There are Babysitters and Wet Nurses and they work in shifts so that pups are protected while everyone gets a chance to loll around in the sun. Meerkats use their sharp claws to dig for insects and their favorite is scorpions. By eating those, they do all the other mammals a favor.
The black circles around their eyes protect them from glare, like the smudges football players wear. In the morning and late afternoon they stretch out on their backs in the sun to collect heat, because after dark when they are in their burrow, their body temperatures drop and they need this solar energy.
Did you know that most of the Meerkat collections in U.S. Zoos started with pups from one female who lived in our exhibit?
Vervets, or Green Monkeys, mostly live in Africa although there’s a large population in the West Indies that started when some were brought there on slave ships. The ones in our Zoo came from St. Kitts via a research lab, but now they are safe with us. Ours are yellow, white and black but when the sun hits them just right they do have a bit of a greenish cast.
I’m not going to give you a quiz because these monkeys were new to me and might be to you.
Vervets eat insects—although ours are afraid of mealworms—birds, eggs and tropical fruit, but we also give them some veggies for the nutrients. Though they sleep in trees, they spend most of their time on the ground gathering food and hanging out with each other.
In Vervet society, the females rule their large troops (this is getting to be a theme among African animals, isn’t it?) and you can tell who’s dominant and who’s at the lower level of the society by how they hold their tails. Over their backs? Give them space. Dragging on the ground? They’ll be eating last. In our exhibit, the ones closest to the fence are on the lowest-rung of the Vervet ladder while the leaders get seats in the back where it is quieter and more private.
Lorraine told us that Vervets, like all primates, have a complex language of calls, body positions and behaviors that speak volumes to them, but mean nothing to most of us. For example, if one Vervet turns her back on another, that means trouble, so if we turn our back on one of them, that can seem very threatening, as can emulating the sounds they make.
Vervets have over 60 different calls. For example, their Leopard warning call will send the troop scurrying to the ends of branches where heavier Leopards can’t go. If one issues an Eagle call, they all run into the bushes. And a Snake warning? They stand their ground and get ready to fight it.
When we visit monkeys and apes in a Zoo we have to be careful that we don’t send out signals with our voices or body language that could upset the animals. It’s best to stand back a little, try not to make eye contact, and just be quiet so we can see them as they really are, and they can live calmly in their home here.
Homework tonight was an essay question on how pets are different from wild animals and what makes a good pet. Since I wrote on this during my last module, I decided to write about how to stop the pet trade in wild animals which is responsible for the death and abuse of thousands of animals every year. The heartbreaking events in Zanesville, Ohio in October, 2011, where nearly 50 beautiful wild animals had to be shot, was a vivid example of why we need laws preventing the sale and ownership of nondomesticated animals to private parties.
Saturday, we’re going out to the African Village to learn about these animals from experienced docents. What a treat.
See you then,