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Arrived: July 26, 2013
Herb and Nada Mahler Family Aviary, Termite Exhibit
In the open woodlands and savannas of sub-Saharan Africa, cape thick-knees see you long before you see them. But at theMilwaukee County Zoo, close proximity makes it easier to spot these ground-dwelling birds that are so well-camouflaged. You may notice them because of their striking eyes. “They have large nocturnal eyes that give them superb eyesight,” says zookeeper Bryan Kwiatkowski. Phoebe is the Zoo’s veteran thick-knee, identifiable by a purple band around her left leg. Newcomer Phillipé has a green band on his left leg. Their thick “knee” joints are actually heels that “bend opposite of our own,” notes Kwiatkowski. Key survival adaptations are their brown-and-white speckled coats, which provide camouflage when they stand still, and their acting skills. Cape thick-knees flop “helplessly” near their ground nests to lure predators away. When the young are out of harm’s way, the parent “recovers” and flees. These birds mate for life. It’s hoped Phillipé – who came from the Fresno Chafee Zoo in California – will eventually breed with Phoebe, hatched at our Zoo.You also can identify Phoebe by her behavior. Because Phoebe was hand-raised, “she has little fear of humans and has no problem letting keepers or the public know this,” says Kwiatkowski. So if one of the cape thickknees runs up to the edge of the exhibit and stares at you, it’s probably Phoebe. “She’s letting you know this is her space,” he adds.
Arrived: Ziggy on May 24 and Marlee on Oct. 17, 2013
MillerCoors Giraffe Experience
A child recently transferred to a new school tends to form bonds with a child near her own age. It’s the same with giraffes. Two young females recently joined the Milwaukee County Zoo’s two veteran giraffes. Both came from Florida: Ziggy, 3 (see below), from Disney's Animal Kingdom and Marlee, about 20 months (at right), from Zoo Miami. “They probably bonded because both are new and young,” says Tim Wild, curator of large mammals. Bonding signs include nuzzling and nibbling each other’s necks and faces, coupled with sniffs and licks. Their bond didn’t exclude acceptance by resident giraffes Rahna, a 21-year-old female who is distinctly lighter than the others, and Bahatika, an 8-year-old male. “They’ve all integrated as a herd quickly,” adds Wild. You can identify Marlee because, at 10 feet tall, she’s the shortest of the four giraffes, has the darkest face, and her spots are more solid. Ziggy has polka dots inside her spots. As newbies they share certain behaviors. “They watch people; they pay attention to their surroundings,” says Wild. “But Rahna and Bahatika mind their own business.”
Zookeeper Ray Hren works with the giraffes and notes the dynamics. “Once in a while Rahna lightly knees the two youngsters to gently nudge them to move, or gives an occasional half-hearted head swing out of annoyance,” he says. “It depends on her mood.” Bahatika already is showing interest in Ziggy, who at age 3 may be showing signs of early sexual maturity (which typically begins at 3 to 4 years old). If Ziggy goes into estrus by spring, Wild says they’ll “let it happen.” Giraffes have one of the longest gestation periods in the animal kingdom (14 to 15 months). With luck, the Zoo’s giraffe herd could grow to five by the summer of 2015. Ziggy andMarlee were acquired thanks to a major endowment to the Zoological Society established by the Bernie Ziegler family in memory of his wife, Elizabeth “Liz” Ziegler.