For the first time in the San Diego Zoo’s history, we are able to offer our visitors a chance to view a variety of animal ambassadors on exhibit. These ambassadors, trained to travel to off-site events and special animal presentations, normally live in off-exhibit areas, but through a generous donation we were able to enclose a large area in Urban Jungle that houses cheetahs, domestic dogs, Arctic and gray wolves, and a New Guinea singing dog—not all at the same time, mind you, but most of the time you will see unusual dynamic pairs of animals playing together.
For example, you might find a cheetah paired with a domestic dog, or a large Arctic wolf paired with a very small New Guinea singing dog (sometimes there is no accounting for taste!), or the gray wolf running with his best friend, a golden retriever. There are currently four different dog and cheetah pairs that share the new Animal Ambassador Area (AAA):
- Karroo, female cheetah, and Sven Olof, male blond golden retriever (see Mr. Sven Olaf and Earth Day)
- Kubali, female cheetah, and Bear, male chow mix
- Bakari, male cheetah, and Miley, female husky mix (see Cheetah and Dog Pals)
- Taraji, youngest female cheetah (see Lots of Spots), and Duke, enormous male Anatolian shepherd
Each dog and cheetah pairing enjoys the enclosure a little differently. Miley loves the water and has so much fun playing in the AAA’s pool that one day Bakari decided to join her. Well, he had the shock of a lifetime when he launched into it from an overhanging rock—he had never been in water before and clearly did not share the same joyous feelings about it that Miley had! Nowadays, Bakari hisses at the pond when Miley gets going with all the splashing and bouncing. Duke chooses just to wade in the water for a cool-down period; after all, he spends most of his day chasing the little mighty juvenile cheetah cub, and so far, Taraji lets Duke have his quiet time in the pond alone. One day soon, though, I’m sure Taraji will venture into the pool as well.
The beauty of this Animal Ambassador Area is the fact that you never know which animals you’ll meet inside or what you will find them doing! There are three other sets of animals you might see in the new AAA:
- Kenai (see Mr. Ice Man) and Keeli, Arctic wolf brothers (see Wolf Brothers Sniff a Surprise)
- Keeli and Montana, female New Guinea singing dog
- Akela, male timber wolf, and Nala, female golden retriever
Guests are always surprised when the animal stars arrive at the AAA—we use all forms of transportation to get them here. Sometimes the animals are walked over from Wegeforth Bowl, sometimes they arrive in an air-conditioned van, sometimes they travel in a custom cart built for sea lions, sometimes they come in a shaded golf cart, and sometimes they hitch a ride on a horse-drawn buggy. The animal ambassadors are then walked into the AAA on leash and, once inside, the collar and leash come off and the fun begins! Guests may have an opportunity to speak with one of the trainers personally about the animals in the exhibit as they are coming or going; it’s a great way to learn about each individual animal and their partner. This magical encounter begins anytime after 9 a.m. daily, so please make it one of your next stops when you visit the San Diego Zoo!
Maureen O. Duryee is a senior animal trainer at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Flamingos: Caribbean Kindergarten.