Animal Stories

Animal Stories

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Party Time: Leroy the Giraffe Turns One!

Safari Park keepers created a special celebration for a special giraffe.

Safari Park keepers threw a party for a special giraffe.

January 8, 2015 was a day for celebration at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. After a long bout of illness and recovery, giraffe calf Leroy turned one year old! To celebrate the thriving “Birthday Boy,” we threw him a little party, complete with banana-apple-carrot cupcakes for him and chocolate cupcakes for the staff.

It’s hard to believe it’s already been a year since this very special giraffe calf was born to female Shani. Every one of our giraffes special to us, but this birthday milestone is cause for celebration because while he had a bit of a rough start, he’s doing great today! Although he spent the first few months of his life in and out of our Harter Veterinary Hospital receiving care for multiple health concerns, Leroy remains one of the most cheerful and easy-going giraffe I’ve ever met. He continues to receive excellent follow up care from our veterinary and keeper staff, which is helping him thrive.

After our little party, Leroy spent the rest of the afternoon doing what he loves most—eating acacia leaves from the hands of guests on the back of caravan safari trucks, cruising the exhibit with the rest of the giraffe nursery group, and getting special attention from the keepers who have been there with him every step of the way.

Party Prep: Giraffe treats on the left, keeper treats on the right

Party Prep: Giraffe treats on the left, keeper treats on the right

And in case you’re wondering, the other giraffes let Leroy have all the glory during the party, but were quick to clean up afterwards. Chuku, Leroy’s 20-year-old “auntie”, scarfed down what was left of the “cupcakes” shortly after the festivities ended!

Cheers to Leroy! We wish him a many more years of good health, great fun, and delicious leafy browse!

Amanda Lussier is a keeper at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park. Read her previous blog Giraffes: A Creche Full of Cuties!

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Sweet, Juicy Papaya‚—for the Birds!

What's on the menu? Egg, commercial diet, and juicy, sweet papaya!

What’s on the menu? Scrambled egg, commercial diet, and juicy, sweet papaya!

As people recover from their holiday feasting, now is a nice time to reflect on feeding Hawaiian birds in a captive breeding program.

One of the biggest challenges of managing a captive propagation center for Hawaiian birds is providing a nutritionally balanced diet replicating foods the birds would eat in the wild. Ideally, a captive diet is composed of the exact same natural fruits, nectars, and animal and insect proteins birds forage on while wandering in native Hawaiian forests. But collecting the exact food items these birds eat in the wild is impossible!

Although wild diets cannot be perfectly recreated, we strive to fashion a representation offering the same nutritional components. Prior to working with any new bird species, Hawaii Endangered Bird Conservation Program (HEBCP) staff review data on a species’ nutritional requirements and foraging behavior in the wild, to create diets for the birds in captivity. For instance, wild alala historically consumed many native fruits, and supplemented their fruit-heavy diet with invertebrates as well as the occasional egg and nestling of other bird species.

For birds in managed care, we replicate what is contained in wild alala diets by providing apple, melon, mixed veggies, and papaya in place of native fruits. The alala also receive scrambled egg, mealworms, and bird pellets that offer a balance of carbohydrates, fats, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. As you can see, these captive diets heavily feature food items available from commercial retailers.

Unfortunately, even commercially available foods can be difficult or expensive to obtain. This is where we benefit from close relationships with generous local supporters in our communities. For example, Kumu Farms in Wailuku, Maui, regularly donates organic, GMO-free papaya for the birds at the Maui Bird Conservation Center (MBCC). Although the MBCC is a relatively small facility, providing enough papaya for all almost 70 birds (representing 4 species) being bred in captivity is no small feat—but Kumu Farms donates papaya to help make this possible. And all the birds at MBCC eagerly devour Kumu Farm’s sweet, juicy gift!

Joshua Kramer is a research coordinator at the Maui Bird Conservation Center, operated by San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, Maui Bird Conservation Center: Open House 2013.

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Happy Anniversary, Gao Gao!

Celebrating a dozen delightful years with Gao Gao!

January 15, 2015 marks a dozen delightful years with Gao Gao at the Zoo!

Gao Gao’s 12th anniversary (he arrived in San Diego Jan. 15, 2003) is coming up at the San Diego Zoo and what a glorious time it has been. He has been the perfect mate for Bai Yun and has fathered five cubs (Mei Sheng, Su Lin, Zhen Zhen, Yun Zi, and Xiao Liwu). He may be small but he has a huge personality and presence among his keepers. As he always enjoys and demands his daily scratches from us.

This Thursday, Gao Gao will have a quiet anniversary celebration in the Classroom Exhibit with some special enrichment throughout the day that will include his favorite scents: cinnamon spice, ginseng root perfume, and rubbing alcohol!. He does not get an ice cake anymore due to his old teeth, but he will get extra apples and honey, and my favorite part of the day—extra scratches from his keepers.

Lately, Gao Gao has preferred the quiet life of living in the classroom exhibits with access to his bedroom whenever he desires. His exhibit is not open to the public and only gets visits by early morning tours and special behind the scenes events. You can see him on Panda Cam Daily from 6:30a.m. until 2:30p.m. PST.

Jennifer Becerra is a senior keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Panda Party for Mr. Wu.

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Animals Who Totally Own Winter

With a lot of the US experiencing record cold, and all this talk of another “Polar Vortex,” I thought it would be fun to explore how certain animals deal with extreme cold. Nature has concocted some pretty awesome ways to thrive in cold weather, often involving stylish winter coats, cozy fat insulation, and other clever mechanisms to overcome extreme cold. Check out these animals who absolutely own winter.

Takins have some pretty cool adaptations that help them stay warm and dry during the bitter cold of winter in the rugged Himalayan Mountains. A thick, secondary coat is grown to keep out the chill, which they shed for the summer. Their nose also plays a role in keeping them warm. A takin’s large, moose-like snout has big sinus cavities to warm up the air inhaled before it gets to the lungs. Without this adaptation, takins would lose a large amount of body heat just by breathing.

Polar bears have an outer coat of long guard hairs that stick together when wet and protect a dense, thick undercoat of fur. On land, water rolls right off of the guard hairs. Even though polar bears look white, their hair is really made of clear, hollow tubes filled with air. Scarring or residue on the fur can cause the “white” fur to appear to human eyes as cream colored, yellow, or even pink in the Arctic light. Fat also plays a major role in a polar bear’s ability to survive cold. Fat acts as energy storage when food can’t be found and may provide the ability to generate heat to help insulate polar bears from the freezing air and cold water. This 2-4 inch think layer of fat may also help the bears float in water. Big is beautiful!

Native to the Arctic region of the Northern Hemisphere, the Arctic Fox has a dense, multi-layered coat that provides excellent insulation against the cold. It also has an impressive layer of fat that provides extra insulation, as well as a a specialized body shape that minimizes exposure to cold. This cleverly adapted canine also has fur on its feet to help it walk on snow and ice without issue.

 

Snow leopards move to different altitudes along with the summer and winter migrations of their prey animals, so their coats vary from fine in the summer to thick in the winter. Snow leopards have a relatively small head with a short, broad nose that has a large nasal cavity that passes cold air through and warms it. Their huge paws have fur on the bottom that protects and cushions their feet for walking, climbing, and jumping. The wide, furry paws also give the cat great traction on snow.

 

Reindeer originally inhabited the tundra and forests of Scandinavia and northern Russia and were then introduced into Iceland, Greenland, Alaska, and Canada. They are covered in hair from their nose to the bottom of their feet, and have two coat layers: an undercoat of fine, soft wool that stays right next to their skin, and a top layer of long, hollow guard hairs. The air trapped inside the guard hairs holds in body heat to keep the animal warm against wind and cold. The hollow hairs also help the reindeer float, allowing it to swim across a river, if needed.

 

Sea lions have a thick, slick, waterproof coat that allows them to glide through cold water with ease and comfort. Their flippers also serve to regulate the sea lion’s body temperature. When it’s cold, specially designed blood vessel in the thin-skinned flippers constrict to prevent heat loss, but when it’s hot, blood flow is increased to these surface areas to be cooled more quickly.

Sea Lion

Incredibly adaptable, wolves have inhabited, at one point, virtually all of North America, northern Europe, eastern Africa, and Asia. Employing a wide range of adaptations, wolves tolerate a massive range of temperatures, from -70 to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (-50 to 48.8 degrees Celsius). All of their senses are keen, and they can run, climb, lope, and swim incredibly well.

 

Lastly, here’s an animal that not only doesn’t wear a winter coat, but is a natural nudist. Yeah, naked mole-rats wouldn’t do so well in extreme cold. Be glad you’re not one of these guys this season. Happy winter everyone!

Matt Steele is the senior social media planner for San Diego Zoo Global. Read his previous post, 5 Turkey Myths Busted.

 

 

 

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Pandas in Winter

Cold temperatures? Extra bamboo? Works for Bai Yun!

Cold temperatures? Extra bamboo? Works for Bai Yun!

For the first time in a long time, our pandas are actually getting some truly winter weather. We’ve had some rain recently, and temperatures in the first week of the new year were really low for our region. And the geography of the Zoo means some parts of the grounds feel the chill more than others; Panda Canyon is usually 10 to 15 degrees cooler than the main entrance (where temperatures were in the mid-50s). Although the staff is feeling a bit chilly, the bears are loving this weather!

Giant pandas have a very thick, dense fur coat and like most bears they will try to gain as much weight as possible for winter, but they do not go into torpor (commonly called hibernation). Unlike their counterparts in China and zoos in colder parts of the world, our pandas don’t usually have much of a winter to deal with, but rest assured they are all doing just fine with this cold snap!

We always offer more food than what the bears will actually eat. This allows them to have variety in their diet but also giving them access to extra calories should they so desire. Our pandas do not weigh as much as other pandas that go through more severe winters, because they don’t need the extra insulating fat layer here in San Diego.

As someone who has worked both directly and indirectly (as a Panda Narrator) with the bears, I can honestly say that I love watching them in cold weather. You get to see them eat more and the younger pandas get a little more hop to their step. Yun Zi was one of my favorites to watch in winter. He was always an active fellow, but when it was cold or raining he’d roll in the mud and really tear his exhibit apart. Not always fun to clean up after, but a blast to observe!

No matter what the weather, Bai Yun tends to do her normal thing—eat till she’s tired, then take a nap. I often joke that she’s been here in San Diego for so long nothing much can surprise her anymore. Gao Gao will remain off exhibit in the North Exhibit, with regular access to his bedroom. The perk about having the back area to himself is that he can pretty much run his day however he wants. Inside or out he’s got full reign of the area in the back. Mr. Wu will be on exhibit, and I’m looking forward to watching him and see how he reacts to this cold snap. I know it’s not cold compared to where a lot of you are from, but for these bears, and us, it’s definitely a change!

Happy New Year and hope you are all well! Come see us soon in 2015!

Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator and keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Dealing with Noise in Panda Canyon.

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Oh, Joy—It’s a Boy!


On December 26, as we quietly started our morning routine at the Zoo, we found a wonderful surprise: a highly endangered western lowland gorilla had been born! We had just entered the building at 6:15 a.m. when we discovered 34-year-old gorilla Jessica cradling a newborn who looked to be less than an hour old. She was gingerly cleaning her baby boy and clutching him close to her chest. This is the sixth baby for Jessica and, as expected, she is proving to be a great mother once again!

The two other members of her troop, Paul Donn and Ndjia, have been close by ever since the baby’s arrival. This is the fourth offspring for father Paul Donn, a 25-year-old silverback. He’s been a gentle, playful father who is very protective of each of his kids. The other female, 20-year-old Ndjia, is extremely interested in the infant, sitting close to Jessica. In the past, Ndjia has been a great playmate and caregiver to young gorillas and seems to want to continue her warm and inviting ways with the new baby right away. But at this point, the baby is too new and fragile for a mom as protective as Jessica. We are looking forward to watching both Paul and Ndjia interact with this new little boy more and more as he grows and explores his surroundings.

Jessica and her newborn, along with troop-mates Ndjia and Paul, are on exhibit in the afternoons for our guests to view, as weather permits. Since the troop enjoys being next to the glass at the main viewing area (could it be the comforting heaters that line the glass windows?), you can get a wonderful up-close view of our newest bundle of joy!

April Bove-Rothwell and Nerissa Foland are Senior Keepers at the San Diego Zoo.

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14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014

This year, the Safari Park baby boom provided over 650 tiny new additions to our animal family, some of which were released into the wild. From cute chicks to courageous calves and cubs, here are some of the noteworthy births we saw in 2014:

1. Leroy, the resilient giraffe calf.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Leroy

The birth of our first Uganda giraffe calf on January 8 was a marvelous way to kick off the New Year. However, shortly after Shani’s calf arrived, keepers noticed the youngster was exhibiting signs of weakness and not eating well. At two weeks old, Leroy was sent to the Safari Park’s Harter Veterinary Medical Center, where he spent 39 days in treatment for a severe bacterial infection. Nursing was impossible, so his human keepers filled in as surrogate parents, bottle-feeding the young calf three to five times a day. After extensive care, Leroy made a full recovery and was welcomed back into his herd with kisses and nose rubs in April.

2. Tanu’s spirited stripes.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Tanu

The endangered Grevy’s zebra population saw a tiny black-and-white boost when Bakavu gave birth to her fifth foal, Tanu, on January 3. Tanu was able to tell his mother apart from other zebras in the herd and knew to stay close to her by memorizing Bakavu’s unique stripe pattern.

3. Parvesh, the lord of celebration.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Parvesh

Parvesh, which means lord of celebration in Hindi, was born on February 25 to mother Alta and father Bophu. When he was nine weeks old, the greater one-horned rhino calf moved into the Asian Plains habitat and started making his own rules. Parvesh’s charming personality demands the attention of our guests,

4. One little gorilla named Joanne.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Joanne

When Imani had her first baby on March 12, the 18-year-old mother had to be sedated and whisked to the Harter Veterinary Medical Center for an emergency C-section. The fragile infant, named Joanne, stayed at the veterinary hospital for round-the-clock care. Due to the long labor, Joanne was having trouble breathing, and it turned out that she had a collapsed lung and pneumonia. Twelve days later, the baby was laid down in a nest of soft hay in the gorilla bedroom, and Imani was let in. The moment Joanne was reunited with her mother will forever live in our hearts. This gorilla’s story was (and still is) incredible.

5. Cheetah and puppy best friends.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Ruuxa and Raina

Ruuxa and Raina became an overnight sensation. The six-week-old cheetah cub and seven-week-old Rhodesian ridgeback were the youngest animal ambassador pairing since the program began. Shortly after their introduction, Ruuxa underwent surgery to repair a growth abnormality in his limbs. Raina, whose name means guardian, stayed by the cheetah cub’s side throughout the procedure and continues to be an attentive and loyal friend.

6. Jackson, the curious okapi calf.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Jackson

Gestation for okapis can last from 14 to 16 months, so the birth of Jackson in July was a highly anticipated event. The curious calf stayed close to his mother but kicked his way into our hearts as well.

7. A rare crane chick.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Wattled crane chick

Our very first wattled crane chick shuffled its way into our hearts this summer. Wattled cranes are the rarest crane species found in Africa, so this chick was (and still is) a treasure.

8. Our first Masai giraffe calves.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Gowon

We have a total of 134 Ugandan giraffes and 23 reticulated giraffes, but the births of Gowon and Kamau in July marked the first time Masai giraffes have been born at the Safari Park. While Masai giraffes are the most populous of the subspecies, all wild populations have decreased significantly since the late 1990s, due to habitat loss and competition with livestock for resources. Both are aptly named in the Masai language: Gowon (pronounced Go-wan) means maker of rain and Kamau (pronounced Kam-mao) means little warrior.

9. Four reasons to roar at Lion Camp.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: 4 African lion cubs

Four little rascals debuted at Lion Camp this fall and almost doubled the size of our pride. Cubs Ernest, Evelyn, Marion, and Miss Ellen were born on June 22 but spent several months bonding with their mother, Oshana, behind the scenes. The cubs now spend their days pouncing, climbing, and testing the patience of their big cat parents.

10. Our spotted cheetah sisters.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Cheetah sisters

Ayanna and Bahati received around-the-clock care at our Animal Care Center for the past few months. The cubs were born at the Safari Park’s Cheetah Breeding Center to Allie, but animal care staff decided to hand-rear the females because their mother has been unsuccessful with previous litters. Now, the female cubs have advanced in their training and have moved to different areas of the Park, awaiting their puppy companions.

11. Luke, a leucistic waterbuck calf.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Luke

Luke has been turning heads since his arrival in September. For decades, we’ve successfully bred over 20,000 rare and endangered animals, including 278 ellipsen waterbuck, but Luke is the first-ever animal born at the Park with a condition that causes him to have reduced pigmentation. He’s a stand-out guy and receives a lot of attention from guests taking a ride on the Africa Tram.

12. Petunia, the petite rhino.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Petunia

Our 67th greater one-horned rhino, named Petunia, debuted in the Asian Plains exhibit after one month of close care. The calf weighed only 128 pounds (58 kilograms) at birth, which is small for her species, so animal care staff kept a 24-hour watch on the newborn until she was ready to leave her protected yard in September. Petunia and her mother, Tanaya, have been blooming and exploring their 40-acre (16 hectares) home since.

13. Satellite elephant calf Nandi.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: Nandi

Did you hear? Our satellite herd at the Reid Park Zoo in Tuscon, Arizona, got an adorable little boost with big ears this year. The African elephant calf named Nandi is doing well and enjoying time with her herd at the Click Family Elephant Care Center.

14. Four purr-fect cheetah cubs.

14 Notable Safari Park Births of 2014: 4 cheetah cubs

photo: Ershun Lee

Four adorable cheetah cubs were born to first-time mother Addison in July at our off-site breeding center. Wgasa, Reu, Pumzika, Mahala, and their mother moved into the Okvango Outpost (and our hearts) last month. It’s certainly wonderful to see so many spots and to watch a cheetah mother raising her cubs.

 

Jenn Beening is the social media specialist for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, 10 Festive Reindeer Facts.

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Dealing with Noise in Panda Canyon

Bai Yun is a pro at dealing with activity around Panda Trek.

New noises catch Bai Yun’s attention, then it’s back to “business as usual.”

As many of you have seen on Panda Cam and in person, young Mr. Wu is off exhibit at times and only Bai Yun is present. Rest assured there is nothing wrong with him and he is perfectly fine. Our Zoo is coming up on its 100th birthday soon, so we are improving areas and updating where we can. With that comes a certain amount of noise that we really cannot get away from, so we closely monitor our animals for any signs of stress.

Xiao Liwu, being younger and not as experienced with new sounds, is more likely to react to the construction noise. Bai Yun is typically a pro at changes and has been managing extremely well. One of the benefits of having a panda narrator keeping an eye on the bears is that the narrator is familiar with each animal and can tell the Panda Team when there is a change in behavior. Our Web Team will always do its best to notify you when there may be a change in who is out for viewing, but the fact of the matter is that things can change quickly here, and we often need to make judgment calls quickly, too.

When the bears are off exhibit, they still have an outside yard they can go into if they so choose. Both of the north exhibits are close to bedrooms and, if needed, the keepers can give the pandas access to the bedrooms. The bedrooms offer a dry and cozy area for the pandas. Keepers often fill a giant tub full of hay or shavings for the bears to rest in, and there is a garden room for them to go into as well. Having a building between them and the extra noise often makes a huge difference in a panda’s comfort level and helps diminish any stress behavior.

Bai Yun is an expert at dealing with noise. When we were building the rest of Panda Trek, she was still able to be out in the main viewing area, right next to the noise. There were, of course, days where we noticed that she was a little annoyed with the activity level and so gave her access to her bedroom. There are several cameras in the area, and the panda narrator and guest ambassador all keep an eye—and ear—out for her to make sure that she is comfortable. In many situations, just giving her 10 to 15 minutes in her bedroom to get a little break will often set her right. In addition, we always do our best to make sure that she has extra bamboo that she is fond of and to try and keep her busy with enrichment.

Come see us soon, and please know that we are always thinking of how to make this an easy time for our animals!
Anastasia Horning is a panda narrator and keeper at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Talkin’ about Takins.

 

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Who You Calling “Sloth?”

Curious Sahaasa sniffs out his new surroudings.

Curious sloth bear Sahaasa sniffs out his new surroundings.

This week, I had the opportunity to observe two new additions to the San Diego Zoo’s bear canyon. Sahaasa and Kayla, 2-year-old sibling sloth bears, got busy making themselves at home—and watching each go about it in their own way was quite interesting!

Sloth bears are not well known to many North Americans, but they are really very interesting creatures. Their long, shaggy coat makes them appear quite cute and cuddly, but they are good-sized bears with sharp claws and teeth and can therefore be quite dangerous if provoked. They live in the grasslands and open dry forests of India, where they feed primarily on insects; those extra long claws are particularly useful at shredding rotting wood and hard-packed dirt to gain access to the grubs, termites, and other delicious invertebrates that live beneath. So, too, is their muzzle well adapted to foraging for bugs, with highly mobile lips, nostrils that can close to keep dirt out, and a gap in their front teeth to allow them to vacuum up creepy crawlies. These guys are well suited to play nature’s exterminator.

The sloth bear is so-called because originally it was thought they resembled sloths, the slow-moving tree dwellers. In fact, sloths bears are not related to sloths, but the differences don’t end there.

In three hours yesterday, I watched Sahaasa climb a tree a half dozen times, crawl into the moat just as often, scratch a hole in a 6-inch-thick (15 centimeters) piece of deadwood, dig a hole (that his big body could nearly fit into) in about 10 minutes, dangle from the climbing structure more times than I could count, and sniff out every inch of his new exhibit space. The dictionary defines “sloth” as “habitual disinclination to exertion, laziness.” Apparently Sahaasa didn’t get the memo.

Kayla is a little more shy and reticent than her brother, but she performed her share of mayhem as well: she uprooted a shrub with little effort and dragged it half way across her exhibit. If you’d like to come say “hi” to the newest additions to our bear family, you might want to do it soon. I can’t guarantee any of their exhibit plants or hardware will survive for much longer!

Suzanne Hall is a senior research technician for the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research. Read her previous post, World Orangutan Day.

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10 Festive Reindeer Facts

‘Tis the season to be jolly! What could be more merry than Santa’s sleigh? Well, without his dexterous reindeer, Old Saint Nick’s mode of transportation would not get very far. So today, we would like to share a few fun facts about this festive species.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

1. Reindeer or caribou?
In Europe, they’re known as reindeer. In North America, the term reindeer is used for Eurasian populations, while the name caribou refers to wild populations found in the country. However, both reindeer and caribou are classified as the same genus and species, rangifer tarandus. So for the purpose of simplicity and sticking with the holiday theme, we’ll call them reindeer for the rest of this blog.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

2. Males AND females grow antlers.
Male antlers may grow twice as long as their female counterparts; still, reindeer are the only deer species to practice gender equality when it comes to their most memorable characteristic. Males begin to grow antlers in February and females start in May. Both stop growing around the same time, but a male’s antlers typically drop off in November, while a female’s remain through winter until their calves are born in spring. If you’re following this logic, our good pal Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was most likely a female, because she was rocking her antlers on Christmas Eve.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

3. Hard antlers start out soft and fuzzy.
Since antlers fall off and grow back every year, a reindeer is said to be in “velvet” while the new pair of antlers grow. After the velvet dries up, the reindeer unveils its hard antler cores by rubbing its deciduous horns against a rock or tree. Ta-da!

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

4. Reindeer calves are quick learners.
Newborns are able to stand one hour after birth, and they can outrun humans when they reach one day old. Calves are also weaned from their mothers as early as one to six months of age.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

5. They have hairy feet.
Reindeer are built for subzero temps, so they’re covered in hair from their nose to the bottom of their feet. The hair on their hooves provides an excellent grip when trekking over frozen landscapes. Thus, the hairy hooves of reindeer have adapted into snowshoes for these Arctic animals.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

6. Reindeer hooves are anatomically noisy.
“Up On The Housetop” and other holiday jingles often imply that the “click, click, click” we hear upon Santa’s arrival is the result of his herd’s stampeding feet. In fact, many hoofed animals make loud noises when their feet meet hard surfaces, but not reindeer. The metallic sound of reindeer hooves is actually due to tendons slipping over their foot bones as they walk.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

7. They love crowds…
… of other reindeer, of course. Since they are social animals, reindeer live in herds of 10 to several hundred. So Santa was somewhat limiting his holiday herd by having only nine reindeer. Imagine the horsepower his sleigh would have if his herd included 100 fancifully named members!

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

8. Reindeer are good swimmers.
Santa’s exclusive herd might be capable of flying, but the rest of the species is not. However, since reindeer migrate to follow their food supply and avoid harsh conditions, chances are they come into contact with water. Luckily, reindeer use their wide, two-toed hooves like paddles that push water and allow these mammals to swim from four to six miles per hour.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

9. Their eyes change color in winter.
To adapt to the varying levels of light in their northern habitat, part of a reindeer’s eye changes color and increases their vision sensitivity. The layer of tissue behind the retina that reflects light (tapetum lucidum) turns blue during winter and allows reindeer to see slightly more of their surroundings, even if what they can see is not that sharp or in focus. This seasonal trade-off has its advantages, especially if it improves a reindeer’s ability to spot predators.

Wild & Fun: 10 Festive Facts About Reindeer

10. Like humans, reindeer “wear” layers.
A reindeer has two coat layers: the undercoat is made of soft, fine wool that grows next to the skin, and the top layer consists of long, hollow guard hairs. Similar to a hollow-fill winter jacket worn by humans, the stiff top layer insulates the animal and keeps it warm against the wind and cold. These hollow hairs also help reindeer float. In other words, reindeer have incredible fashion sense.

Do you have any reindeer facts to add to this list? Share your thoughts in the comments.

 

Jenn Beening is the social media specialist for San Diego Zoo Global. Read her previous post, What We’re Thankful For.