There's an odd new creature causing a stir over in Wild Asia. You might say people are talkin' about the takin (rhymes with rockin'), even if they didn't know that that is what they are. Confused? No worries! Zoo visitors are wondering and asking what these strange animals are, with guesses ranging from gnu or wildebeest to musk ox, to combination creatures that reflect their odd appearance and lineage.
Last week the zoo welcomed the arrival of two endangered Sichuan takin, an Asian hoofed animal that is technically placed in the "goat-antelope" classification. Their horns resemble that of a gnu. Their stout muscular body is a bit like a bison, and they walk like a sumo wrestler. A patrician snout is suggestive of a moose or a Saiga, and houses enlarged sinus cavities to help warm up the frigid air of their high mountain habitat before it gets to their lungs. This helps conserve body heat which would otherwise be lost by breathing such cold air. They should be right at home this week! Another adaptation to their cold Himalayan home is a shaggy golden coat, which is thought to be the legendary "golden fleece" sought by Jason and the Argonauts in Greek mythology. Despite the eclectic nature of all their adaptations and body parts, takin are most closely related to sheep, and to the goat-like Aoudad of North Africa.
In preparing for the arrival of this new species to Lee Richardson Zoo, staff did a lot of research about appropriate accommodations. Takin are large, powerful animals and can weigh more than 800 pounds. They have a tendency to butt their surroundings, so we reinforced our fences and holding stalls in their yard and barn. Because they are adapted so well to cold weather, we also added some features to help keep them cool during the summer months. Although they will shed their heavy coat, a sturdy stock tank for water recreation, fogging misters along the fences and some additional thatch umbrellas for shade should help keep them comfortable.
Our new boys, nicknamed Louie and Oliver, ages 7 and nearly 5 years respectively, arrived from the San Diego Zoo and are settling in nicely to their new home. Look for them in Wild Asia, near the red panda and aviary exhibits, in the former Peré David deer yard.
And if you need any other excuses to make a trip to the zoo, we have several other arrivals as well. A new bison cow arrived from the Sandsage Bison Range in late November, with an adorable little late-season red calf in tow. She joined our resident bull in the North American Plains yard, so we have an instant family for all you Garden City Buffalo fans!
Also new to the zoo are a pair of Swift fox who arrived in early November. This pair is wild caught and as such are unrelated to the rest of the captive population. This makes them an important addition to the Swift fox breeding program we participate in. To ease their transition to zoo life, keepers added some temporary screening on the mesh of the Swift fox exhibit near Cat Canyon. This screening allows occasional glimpses of these beautiful native canines when they venture out of their dens, and will be removed as they become more comfortable with their surroundings. Swift fox are native to our Kansas prairies, and rely on their speed to catch prey and avoid becoming prey themselves. They give birth to their pups in underground dens in the spring, and we hope they will present us with a litter of fox kits next year.
Last but not least, and not yet on display due to their small size, are two young cougar cubs. Both were found in separate circumstances in the wild in Oregon and California, and were taken in when it became apparent they needed assistance. Both are females who will eventually be introduced to our resident male cougar Payton when they are larger. He is very curious about these newcomers to his kingdom in Cat Canyon, and is chirping "cougar speak" through the dividing doors of their dens. You can be sure we will share photos of these adorable wild things as they grow. Watch our web page or check out our Facebook pages for the latest baby pictures.
Visit our website at www.leerichardsonzoo.org.