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Meet the Animals

Animals from many parts of Africa make their home at the Zoo. The Zoo's Cheetah Conservation Station is home to Grevy's zebras, a scimitar-horned oryx, dama gazelles, cheetahs, abyssinian hornbills, Ruppell's griffon vultures, red river hogs, and a sitatunga. Click on the name to learn more!

Grevy's Zebra

Grevy's Zebras in the Snow

In its habits and geographic distribution, the Grevy's zebra occupies a middle ground between asses and other zebras.

Facts

Grevy's Zebra

Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Equidae
Genus and Species: Equus grevyi

In its habits and geographic distribution, the Grevy's zebra occupies a middle ground between asses and other zebras.

Physical Description

Big heads, large and rounded ears, and thick, erect manes make the Grevy's zebra appear more mule-like than other zebras. In fact, many experts consider Grevy's zebras to be striped asses that are not closely related to other zebras. Their coats sport dazzling narrow stripes that wrap around each other in a concentric pattern and are bisected by a black stripe running down the spine.

Size

Grevy's zebras grow up to nine feet long, weigh up to 990 pounds, and stand up to almost five and a half feet at the shoulder. On average, males are about ten percent larger than females.

Geographic Distribution

Grevy's zebras live in northern Kenya and southern and eastern Ethiopia.

Status

Grevy's zebra is listed as endangered on the World Conservation Union's (IUCN's) Red List of Threatened Animals.

Habitat

Grevy's zebras inhabit semi-desert areas, including arid grasslands and dusty acacia savannas. The most suitable areas have water year-round.

Natural Diet

Grevy's zebras graze primarily on tough grasses, but they also browse on leaves, which may constitute up to 30 percent of their diet.

Reproduction

Grevy's zebras usually mate in August, September, and October, and bear foals during the rainy seasons. After mating, females give birth to a single foal 13 months later. Foals nurse heavily for half a year and may travel with their mothers for three years. Groups of females with young form herds of up to 200 animals.

Life Span

In zoos, Grevy's zebras may live to about 20 years old; longevity in the wild is likely shorter.

Behavior

Males are highly territorial, claiming prime watering and grazing areas with piles of dung called middens. They generally live alone in their territories, except when females move through during mating season. Non-territorial males travel together in groups of two to six animals. This social system differs from that of other zebras, which typically form female harems that live in one male's territory all year. During dry months, many Grevy's zebras migrate to greener mountain pastures, but males on prime territories often remain there year-round.

Past/Present/Future

Fossils reveal that Grevy's zebras ranged at least to Egypt (and perhaps beyond Africa) until about 6,000 years ago. In historic times, Grevy's zebras were found in parts of Ethiopia, Kenya, and Somalia. Due to hunting for their skins and for food, they no longer live in Somalia, and their range in Ethiopia and Kenya is reduced. The total wild population is probably fewer than 6,000 animals. Competition with domestic grazing animals, habitat destruction, and human disturbance at critical water holes contribute to their decline. Also, poorly regulated ecotourism—especially when vehicles leave roads and disturb the animals—may affect breeding in some parks. Better protection and linkages between important park areas are essential for Grevy's zebras' survival.

Fun Facts

The Grevy's zebra is the largest wild member of the horse family.

Each zebra has its own unique set of stripes, which are as distinctive as fingerprints.

A denizen of extremely dry places, Grevy's zebras were once widespread in Africa and perhaps outside the continent. Some scientists think plains zebras (Equus burchelli) took their place after less arid savannas replaced more arid ones in many areas.


A Few Grevy's Zebra Neighbors

Cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus): The world's fastest and most specialized cat shares some of the Grevy's zebra's strongholds.

Beisa oryx (Oryx gazella beisa): A large, long-horned antelope with black stripes on its flanks and face.

Vulturine guineafowl (Acryllium vulturinum): A bare-headed gamebird with dazzling black, blue, and white plumes.

By saving Grevy's zebra habitat, we protect these and many other animals.


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Scimitar-horned oryx

Scimitar-horned oryx calf and adult

Both male and female scimitar-horned oryx have curved horns that grow to be several feet long.

Facts

Scimitar-horned Oryx

Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Genus and Species: Oryx dammah

Both male and female scimitar-horned oryx have curved horns that grow to be several feet long.

Physical Description

Scimitar-horned oryx are mostly white with reddish brown necks and marks on the face and a long, dark, tufted tail. The white coat helps reflect the heat of the desert.

Size

These desert antelope stand up to 1.4 meters (4.6 feet) tall at the shoulder, and their head and body length is between 1.5 and 2.3 meters (4.9 to 7.5 feet), plus a long tail. They weigh between 100 and 210 kilograms (220 to 460 pounds).

Status

The World Conservation Union's Red List of Threatened Species lists scimitar-horned oryx as extinct in the wild.

Geographic Distribution

Now extinct in the wild, scimitar-horned oryx once lived in northern African countries of Egypt, Senegal, and Chad. They have been reintroduced in Tunisia.

Habitat

These oryx once lived in arid plains and deserts, and, to a lesser extent, rocky hillsides and thick brush.

Natural Diet

Scimitar-horned oryx eat grasses, herbs, juicy roots, and buds.

National Zoo Diet

The Zoo's oryx eat grass hay, herbivore (hay) pellets, and grass.

Reproduction

About eight to eight and a half months after mating, females give birth to a single calf weighing about ten kilograms.

Life Span

Some scientists belive scimitar-horned oryx live up to 20 years in the wild.

Behavior

Historically, these oryx lived in herds of 20 to 40 individuals, led by a single male. During migrations and times of plentiful water, herds of 1,000 or more were seen.

Past/Present/Future

A few causes that contributed to the extinction of scimitar-horned oryx in the wild include climate change, human encroachment on their habitat for agriculture, hunting, and excessive domestic livestock grazing on limited vegetation. Zoo populations of these desert antelope are thriving because of cooperation between North American and European zoos. One of the projects in which the Zoo participates is the establishment of a "world herd" genome resource bank.

Fun Fact

Scimitar-horned oryx have an interesting way of coping with a shortage of water. They are able to raise their body temperature by several degrees, up to 116 degrees Fahrenheit, to conserve water by avoiding sweating.

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Dama Gazelle

Dama Gazelle

Also known as the addra gazelle, the dama gazelle is the largest of all gazelles. It is also the world's rarest.

Facts

Dama Gazelle

Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Genus and Species: Gazella dama

Physical Description

This large gazelle has a slender neck and legs, and somewhat S-shaped horns. It is white with reddish-brown coloring, but the pattern varies by region. Dama gazelles in the western part of their range are more reddish-brown than those in the east. Coloration also varies by age and season. The head is typically pale.

Size

This gazelle may have a shoulder height of nearly four feet. Its head and body length may range from four and a half to five and a half feet, and its tail may be up to a foot long. Adults may weigh 88 to 165 pounds.

Status

The World Conservation Union's Red List of Threatened Species lists the dama gazelle as critically endangered. There may be only a few hundred of these gazelles left in the wild.

Geographic Distribution

Dama gazelles once ranged across northern Africa, from the Atlantic to the Nile. Now, they can be found in a few isolated areas in Chad, Mali, and Niger.

Habitat

These gazelles live on Sahelian grasslands, savanna, and sub-desert steppes.

Diet

Dama gazelles eat shrubs, succulents, herbs, trees, and woody plants.

Reproduction

About six and a half months after mating, females give birth to a single fawn. It is weaned after about six months.

Behavior

They may lead a solitary life or live in a group of up to 15 individuals.

Fun Fact

Dama gazelles may stand on their hind legs to eat from acacia trees and other plants as high as six feet from the ground.

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Cheetah

Cheetah family group

The world's fastest land mammal is vulnerable to extinction throughout its range

Facts

Cheetah

Order: Carnivora
Family: Felidae
Genus and Species: Acinonyx jubatus

Physical Description

Built more like greyhounds than typical cats, cheetahs are adapted for brief but intense bursts of speed. They have wiry bodies and small heads. Their coats are golden or yellowish, embellished with many small black spots, and their tails are long with a few black bands and sometimes a white tip. Black stripes run from their eyes down to the corners of their mouths.

Size

Cheetahs grow to between three and a half and four and a half feet long, not including their 30-inch tails. They weigh between 75 and 145 pounds and stand two to three feet tall at the shoulder. Males tend to be a bit more robust and weigh about ten pounds more than females.

Geographic Distribution

Cheetahs live in small, isolated populations mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. They are very rare in southern Algeria and northern Niger, and range from Senegal east to Somalia and south to northern South Africa. A few have been reported from Iran. However, many of their strongholds are in eastern and southern African parks.

Status

The cheetah is listed as vulnerable on the World Conservation Union's (IUCN's) Red List of Threatened Animals.

Habitat

Savannas, both open and more densely vegetated, give cheetahs the open areas they need for quick stalks and chases. They are not found in forest areas or wetlands.

Natural Diet

Cheetahs eat primarily hoofed mammals weighing less than 90 pounds, including gazelles and young wildebeest. They will also eat smaller game such as hares, warthogs, and birds.

National Zoo Diet

The Zoo's cheetahs eat ground horse meat and sometimes beef, rabbits, and chicks.

Reproduction

Cheetahs can breed at any time of year but tend to copulate in the dry season, with cubs being born at the onset of the wet season. Females reach breeding age by 21 or 22 months of age. Males live in small permanent groups called coalitions, which are usually made up of brothers. Males are drawn to females in heat, but only one male in a coalition usually mates with the selected female. On average, three cubs are born about three months after mating takes place. Until five or six weeks old, the cubs remain hidden; if she needs to move, the mother carries them from place to place. After five or six weeks, cubs follow their mothers and share her kills. Cheetah cubs wean at about three months old.

Life Span

In zoos, cheetahs may live up to 17 years, though the average is 8 to 12. No one has studied cheetah longevity in the wild, though cub mortality is very high and about 90 percent die before they are 3 months old.

Behavior

Female cheetahs live alone, except when raising cubs. They rarely associate with other cheetahs, except when ready to mate. Males live in small permanent groups called coalitions, which are usually made up of two to four brothers. To avoid lions and leopards, cheetahs usually hunt in the middle of the day. Cheetahs stalk their prey, approaching to within about 50 feet before dashing out from cover and sprinting at the targeted animals. Cheetahs grab their victims' throats and suffocate their quarry within a few minutes. After securing their meal, they may drag it to nearby cover. Despite their best efforts to hide their catches, their kills are often stolen by larger predators and picked at by hordes of vultures. Lions and hyenas also eat cheetah cubs; lions and leopards also kill adults.

Past/Present/Future

Once widespread across arid Africa, into the Middle East and east to India, the cheetah has suffered dramatic declines over the last century. It now lives in Africa, and a few may survive in Iran. Hunted for their spotted coats and because they sometimes attack livestock, they disappeared from many areas. More recently, widespread habitat destruction has fragmented cheetah habitats, isolating many populations. In many areas, the cheetah's prey has been overhunted by people. Scientists have also found that many cheetahs suffer from genetic defects due to inbreeding, possibly the result of a population bottleneck—a sharp decline—that occurred perhaps as far back as 10,000 years ago. Among other things, inbreeding could raise cub mortality, lower cheetahs' resistance to disease, and cause infertility. An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 wild cheetahs survive. Cheetah strongholds, where possible, must be connected to allow genetic interchange if this species is to survive. Also, conflict between cheetahs and humans needs to be moderated. For example, in Namibia, ranchers may legally shoot cheetahs that prey on livestock.

Fun Facts

A sprinting cheetah can reach 45 miles per hour within 2.5 seconds. Top speed—up to 64 miles per hour—can only be briefly sustained.

In the 16th century, emperors and other royalty hunted gazelles with trained cheetahs.

A Few Cheetah Neighbors

Thomson's gazelle (Gazella thomsonii): Within its range, this smallish, striped animal is a favored prey of the cheetah.

Beisa oryx (Oryx gazella beisa): A large, long-horned antelope with black stripes on its flanks and face.

Vulturine guineafowl (Acryllium vulturinum): A bare-headed gamebird with dazzling black, blue, and white plumes.

By saving cheetah habitat, we protect these and many other animals.

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Abyssinian hornbills

Cheetah family group

Hornbills are the only birds with their first two neck vertebrae fused together. This helps support the weight of their large head and heavy beak.

Facts

Abyssinian Ground Hornbill

Order: Coraciiformes
Family: Bucerotidae
Genus and Species: Bucorvus abyssinicus

Physical Description

Abyssinian hornbills are black with white primary feathers and colored throats; males have red throats and females have blue throats. Blue skin surrounds their eyes. They have large, curved beaks used for picking up mice and other small prey. Their beaks feature casques, large keratin-based protrusion on top of their beak, have a yellow spot at their bases.

Size

These birds usually stand anywhere from 31 to 42 inches high and weigh between six and nine pounds. Their wingspan averages six feet.

Geographic Distribution

The Abyssinian ground hornbill ranges throughout sub-Saharan Africa from Senegal to northern Kenya. It is found in mostly open grasslands, sparse woodlands, savannas, and forest-edges.

Status

The IUCN classifies Abyssinian hornbills as a species of least concern due to the bird’s large range and estimated population size.

Diet

Abyssinian hornbills are carnivorous. They eat small mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs, and insects.

Reproduction

Abyssinian ground hornbills live in pair, or small family groups of up to six individuals. Unlike most bird species, they nest in the ground and return to the same nest year after year. Hornbills are monogamous and will keep the same mate for many years. 

Abyssinian hornbills nest in natural holes in the earth, such as caves, tree holes, or crevices in rock faces, but unlike other hornbills, they will not seal the nest by covering the hole. The hen (female) will lay two eggs and will sit on them and incubate them till they hatch after one month. During this time, the male forages and feeds the female.

Both parents feed the hatchlings who compete for food. Since the eggs are laid a few days apart, the first hatchling has the advantage to become the stronger chick, which usually leaves the weaker chick to die of starvation. The remaining chick fledges at about three months, though the parents will continue feeding it up to one year.

Abyssinian hornbills are sexually mature when they’re four years old. Combined with only raising one chick a year, this means they do not repopulate quickly.

Life Span

Abyssinian ground hornbills can reach a maximum age of 40 to 45 years old.

Behavior

Most Abyssinian hornbills are sedentary and live in mated pairs within a defended territory. They will also live in small groups with their juvenile offspring.

They are vocal birds which make deep, booming calls to signal their presence in a territory.

Despite their impressive wingspan, these birds rarely fly. They usually patrol the ground searching for prey using their long legs. If threatened they will take flight, but only for short spans.

Fun Facts

Hornbills are the only birds with their first two neck vertebrae fused together. This helps support the weight of their large head and heavy beak.

The Abyssinian hornbill has long eyelashes to protect it from injury. The eyelashes are actually comprised of smaller, thinner feathers.

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Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture

Two Ruppell's Griffon Vultures

Both males and females have a large wingspan that can range from 7.5 to 8.5 feet long. This allows them to climb altitude and soar for over 6 hours.

Facts

Ruppell’s Griffon Vulture

Order: Falconiformes
Family: Accipitridae
Genus and Species: Gyps rueppellii

Physical Description

These vultures’  bodies  are a mottled, chocolate brown color with a distinctive white feather ring around their bald heads and necks. They have yellow eyes and soft white fluff that covers the purple skin on their heads.

Their sharp, pale yellow beaks are used for ripping and tearing meat from carcasses.

They have powerful legs and talons they use to rip meat and cling to the rock cliffs where they nest.

Size

These large birds can range from 14 to 20 pounds and can be 33 to 41 inches long.

Both males and females have a large wingspan that can range from 7.5 to 8.5 feet long. This allows them to climb altitude and soar for over 6 hours.

Geographic Distribution

The Ruppell’s griffon vultures live all throughout central and western Africa.

Status

The IUCN lists the Ruppell’s  griffon vulture as endangered. Their population is declining raplidy due to poisoning, hunting for trade, and habitat loss. However, the birds still live in great numbers in certain protected areas in central Africa.

Habitat

They prefer grasslands and dry, arid areas where they can easily spot carrion.  

Natural Diet

Like most vultures, Ruppell's griffon vulture feed almost exclusively on carrion.

National Zoo Diet

The Ruppell’s griffon vultures at the Zoo are fed a diet of certain meats. Other zoos may do carcass feeding as well.

Reproduction

They mate for life, which may be forty or fifty years. In vulture courtship, pairs circle close together near cliffs. Pairs perch together for long periods of time, and form colonies of up to 1,000 breeding pairs. They make large nests of sticks lined with grass and leaves. The females will often steal the sticks from other nests and the males arrange them.

Depending upon its location, a nesting site may be used year after year or never again. Both parents incubate, brood, and feed the chicks. The pair lays a single egg  each year, and the chick is only just gaining independence when the next breeding cycle begins. The incubation period of the eggs is 55 days, and the chick fledges in 12 weeks.

Life Span

Maximum lifespan can reach 40 to 50 years.

Behavior

Ruppell's vultures are highly social, roosting, nesting, and gathering to feed in large flocks.

Most vultures are silent, unless they are either at a nesting ground or competing for a carcass.

Ruppell's griffon is the highest flying bird on record, once spotted at an altitude of over 37, 000 feet in the skies of Africa. From a standing start the Ruppell’s vulture can fly over three miles in six minutes. They can cruise at over 22 miles per hour, and will fly as far as 90 miles from their nest in search of food.

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Red River Hog

Red River Hog

The red river hog is found all throughout the rainforests, wet savannas, and waterways of western and central Africa.

Facts

Red River Hog

Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Suidae
Genus and Species: Potamochoerus porcus

Physical Description

The red river hog has coarse, ruddy hair all over its body with a crest of white hair running along its spine. Its face and legs are dark brown or black, with a trim of white on its cheeks and around its eyes. Both males and females have tusks, though the male’s tusks are much larger.

These pigs have exceptional sight, smell, and hearing for locating food.

Geographic Distribution

The red river hog is found all throughout the rainforests, wet savannas, and waterways of western and central Africa.

Status

The IUCN lists red river hogs as a species of least concern due to their large range and estimated population size. However, over-hunting is a concern for the species.

Diet

Red river hogs are omnivorous and eat a wide range of foods. They have been observed eating roots, bulbs, fruit, grass, small animals, eggs, insects and even carcasses of other animals.

Reproduction

Red river hogs give birth to an average of two to four piglets after a gestation of 122 days. Females separate from their sounder and build a nest in preparation for birth. Born weighing two pounds, the piglets stay hidden in tall grasses or brush while their mother forages. As they grow, the sow and the piglets rejoin the family group. Females typically stay with their natal group, while the males are forced out by the dominant boar when they’re about a year old.

Life Span

Red river hogs can live up to a maximum of 22 years of age.

Behavior

Like most pig species, the red river hog is very social, living in groups of six to 20 individuals. Each group is called a sounder and contains one boar (adult male), several sows (females), and several juveniles. Mainly nocturnal, these hogs rest during the day in burrows, coming out at night to eat roots, vegetation, and insects.

Fun Facts

Male red river hogs fight by butting heads and whipping each other with their tails.

Red river hogs fluff out their face hair when threatened. This makes them look larger and more threatening to the enemy.

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Sitatunga

Sitatunga

Sitatungas live in swamps and marshes and are very skilled swimmers.

Facts

Sitatunga

Order: Artiodactyla
Family: Bovidae
Genus and Species: Tragelaphus spekii

Physical Description

The sitatunga is an amphibious antelope, which means it is comfortable in the water as well as on land. It has a long, shaggy, oily coat. Males are grayish-brown, while females are reddish-chocolate brown. They have six to eight vertical white stripes each side of their body and splayed hooves. Their hooves make them clumsy and vulnerable on firm terrain, but allow them to walk more easily through muddy, vegetated swamplands.

Males have long, twisting horns and a larger, thicker body than females.

Geographic Distribution

The sitatunga is rare and localized in western Africa, but remains widespread in the central African forests and in some swamp systems within the savannas of central, eastern and southern Africa. Individuals have also been seen in Ghana.

Status

The IUCN lists the sitatunga as a species of least concern. Though it is rare and localized in western Africa, it is common throughout central, east and southern Africa. It is threatened by over-hunting and habitat degradation.

Diet

Sitatungas forage for swamp vegetation such as bulrushes and sedges. They occasionally eat fallen fruit and the bark off of trees.

Reproduction

Males and females come together only to mate. After a gestation period of 7.5-8 months, the doe gives birth to a single fawn. After six months, the fawn will be weaned and encouraged to forage on its own.

Life Span

Sitatungas can live a maximum of 20 to 22 years.

Behavior

Sitatungas live in swamps and marshes and are very skilled swimmers. Swamps provide a year-round supply of rich food, so sitatungas have exceptionally small home ranges. They can half-submerge themselves underwater as a form of protection and camouflage from predators. Sitatungas can also be found on dry, island mounds within swamps. This is typically where they will raise their young and rest.

Young sitatungas independent at a young age. They are often seen grazing on their own and will lay silent for hours waiting for their mother to return from foraging. Although essentially solitary animals, pairs associate for short periods of time to mate.

Fun Facts

Different subspecies of sitatunga across Africa vary in coloration and white markings. Some subspecies do not have vertical white stripes.

Sitatungas will often stay and graze extensively in a small area for days or weeks, then suddenly desert it and move on to another area.

Male sitatungas produce a loud, barking vocalization.

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