Chirping cheetah cubs, a birthday party fit for a gorilla and a Madagascar hedgehog tenrec indulging in some self-care with a dust bath—all of these events (and more) made for an eventful month at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. We’ve gathered some of our favorite animal antics from April, courtesy of the keepers who are working diligently behind the scenes to ensure every one of our residents receives the best care.
Western Lowland Gorilla | Great Ape House
On April 15, our confident little western lowland gorilla, Moke, marked yet another big milestone—his 2nd birthday! Keeper Alex Reddy reflected on Moke's growing independence, bold personality and training triumphs in the latest #GorillaStory update.
Although visitors couldn’t be at the Zoo to celebrate his big day, primate keepers shared the love...and a sneak peek of his party! The talented team in our Department of Nutrition Sciences provided the pièce de résistance: a cake made from apple, grape and pineapple juices. Hidden inside are slices of grapefruit and lemon, and the cake is topped with blueberries, cranberries, white grapes and strawberries. The light green "frosting" is made from sweet potato paste, and Moke's name was crafted out of leaf-eater biscuit paste. Keepers serenaded the birthday boy with a rousing chorus of 'happy birthday to you!'
Cheetah | Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
It’s a girl—and three boys! At the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, first-time mother Echo gave birth to four chirping, squiggly cubs April 8 live on the Cheetah Cub Cam. An important part of cub care and management is weighing the cubs, which helps the carnivore team know they are growing and thriving. Keepers shave a tiny bit of fur on each cub so that they can tell them apart. This ensures that they know which cubs weighs what amount and lets them track their growth.
At this week’s weigh-in, the cubs tipped the scales! The largest cub (nicknamed “base of tail” for his shave mark) weighed 1.63 kg, or 3.5 pounds. His brother “left shoulder” weighed 1.58 kg, or 3.4 pounds. The female “right hip” weighed 1.53 kg, or 3.3 pounds. Last but not least, the smallest cub—a male nicknamed ”left shoulder”—weighed 1.52 kg, or 3.3 pounds.
Madagascar Hedgehog Tenrec | Small Mammal House
Even for Madagascar hedgehog tenrecs, self care is so important. This little fellow is taking a dust bath and scent-anointing (rubbing the new scent into his spines). Keepers give our tenrecs novel scents and substrates as enrichment to encourage this natural behavior. In the wild, scent can be used as camouflage and parasite repellent!
Lemurs | Lemur Island
Happy birthday to Bowie, Tom Petty, Southside Johnny, Birch, Aloke and Wiley! To mark our ring-tailed and black-and-white-ruffed lemurs’ birthdays, keepers in the Zoo’s Department of Nutrition Sciences whipped up a truly colorful cake. The layers are made from the boys’ favorite foods, including frozen apple and cranberry juices, strawberries, grapes, kiwi, applesauce, corn, peas and kale. The “icing” is made from powdered sweet potato and topped with some fresh raspberries for decoration. Bon Appétit!
Red River Hog| Cheetah Conservation Station
Let’s bob for snacks with Bobbie, our red river hog! To root around for pieces of produce in her water tub, Bobbie blows bubbles and uses her sense of touch and smell to locate broccoli, turnips, sweet potatoes, grapes and blueberries. Enrichment activities like this replicate the hogs’ foraging around rivers and streams in western central Africa. Cheetah Conservation Station keepers say Bobbie is always eager to “bob” for snacks, while her sister Tangerine prefers to dump the bucket and pick them up instead.
Stanley Crane | Bird House
Stanley crane Alice is unlike any other bird of her species. Hand-raised by keepers, she has a sweet temperament and joyous personality. When she sustained a leg injury last summer, animal care staff rallied around Alice and found an innovative solution to help her thrive. Keeper Debi Talbott shares the remarkable story of Alice's road to recovery. Read her update.
Hereford Cow and Miniature Donkey | Kids’ Farm
The Kids' Farm crew is ready to zoom! Jolly balls and brush barrels are some of Hereford cow Willow's favorite enrichment toys to chase and knock about. These items encourage her to keep physically fit and mentally sharp. Donkeys Pat, Flash, George and Giuseppe seem to use them as an obstacle course.
White-Naped Crane | Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute
White-naped cranes Brenda and Eddie are parents again! Their fourth chick, a female, hatched April 2 at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. This chick is the 46th white-naped crane to hatch at SCBI. Prior to hatching, scientists confirmed the chick’s sex using DNA samples taken from inside of the egg. Keepers report Brenda and Eddie are providing excellent care to their chick.
Bird keepers have had great success producing chicks from cranes that have behavioral or physical impediments that prevent them from breeding. The chick’s parents are one of the only white-naped crane pairs living at the research facility capable of breeding naturally. There are an estimated 5,000 white-naped cranes living in the wild, and the species is listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.