Hide and Seek: Followers and Tuckers

A Przewalski’s horse foal strolls next to Mom at the Safari Park.

A Przewalski’s horse foal strolls next to Mom at the Safari Park.

Spring and summer mark baby season at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park, and animal babies at the Safari Park fall into two categories: followers and tuckers. Followers walk, run, and jump within a half hour of birth. They follow their mothers and their herd. They can run from predators. A Przewalski’s foal is able to stand, walk, trot, neigh, and nibble forage on its birthday. Within a week, the foal is able to kick a predator to defend itself. A Przewalski’s foal born at the Safari Park on June 26, 2014, already forages independently in the field exhibit.

A baby gazelle is tucked against a log for safe keeping by Mom.

A baby gazelle is tucked against a log for safe keeping by Mom.

Conversely, tuckers are “tucked” near a rock, tree, or dirt mound after birth. The herd avoids the baby to keep its location secret. Even the tucker’s mother avoids her baby, only coming back a few times a day to nurse. She also moves her baby to different hidden locations to confuse predators. Tuckers are completely helpless, so they stay as still as possible and blend in to their surroundings, even if a predator approaches. Thomson’s gazelles are tuckers. They are the favorite food of cheetahs—infant gazelles don’t stand a chance against them. Gazelle mothers hide their babies in tall grasses for multiple days until they are strong enough to keep up with the herd. A “Tommy” calf born at the Park on June 19, 2014, still looks like a tan rock in the grass.

A gazelle baby gets an ear notch as part of its first exam.

A gazelle baby gets an ear notch as part of its first exam.

Keepers have a tough job with tucker offspring. The baby is easy to catch to give it its first exam, because tuckers can’t run yet, but keepers have to first find the baby. Have you ever tried to find a completely still infant gazelle in a 60-acre exhibit? Good luck. On a Caravan Safari, I have the privilege of watching the action first-hand and even helping keepers spot the tuckers!

Elise Newman is a Caravan Safari guide at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.

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