New zoo babies to visit in the new year

Kesi, a baby mandrill was born May 10, 2019. It was the first birth of a mandrill at the Denver Zoo since 2003. Kesi is her parent’s first baby.

By Robin Ferruggia

The Surveyor

There are new wild babies at the Denver Zoo

Among them are a lion cub, Tatu, a mandrill, Kesi, and a lesser kudu, Eleanor.
Their keepers talked to the Berthoud Surveyor about their relationships with these wild animal babies.

“The day she was born was a huge moment in my career,” said Tenley Davis, a primate keeper at the zoo who is caring for Kesi, a female mandrill. “Getting to see all her firsts, especially her and (mother) Kumani’s interactions. More recently she’s been interacting more with keepers one-on-one by taking food from our hands and ‘smiling’ at us, which is a positive mandrill behavior.”

A mandrill (Mandrillus sphinx) is a primate that resembles a baboon. They live in tropical rainforests, coastal forests, montane and thick forests and brush. They are native to places like Nigeria and the Congo.

“Kesi has become quite the rambunctious little girl. She is very energetic, curious, explorative and confident. She is really finding her voice and making different vocalizations as well as taking treats from keepers more confidently. She’s also been challenging her mom more for food and independence.”

Kesi is the first baby mandrill born at the zoo since 2003. Her birth took some planning.

“There is a lot that goes into bringing in new animals and forming a new family unit. It started with bringing in two new female mandrills through the mandrill species survival plan,” he said. “Once we knew their history and behavior, the primate team met to brainstorm the best way to introduce the new girls to our male, Jelani. Once the new girls arrived, and we had plans in place, we did several introductions until all three of them became a cohesive group. Before (Kesi’s) birth, we trained Kumani several ‘maternal’ behaviors in case she needed assistance. We are very fortunate that Kumani has been a great mom and takes care of Kesi 24/7. We still do observations on Kesi to make sure she is healthy, growing, and getting along well with her new family.”

Kesi is doing well, and other than a scrape from a branch, from which the resilient baby healed quickly, she has had no problems.

In time, it was Kesi’s turn to be introduced to the public.

“With new babies we don’t want to overwhelm them or their mothers,” said Davis. “For Kumani, we always gave her the choice of where she wanted to spend her time. So she received ‘access,’ meaning she had her off-exhibit bedrooms and the outdoor exhibit. This gave her options on where she wanted to spend her time with her new baby and what she was most comfortable with. The first couple times we offered the outdoor exhibit to Kumani and Kesi we chose days that the zoo was less busy. We also invited staff to come see the mandrills on exhibit to get baby Kesi used to seeing people. With this being a new family unit, we spent the summer doing lots of observations with help from volunteers. We were looking at a variety of behaviors to make sure the entire family was adjusting well.”

With the support of their keepers, their team and their families, the babies become comfortable with the many visitors who enjoy visiting them at the zoo.

Tatu, a lion cub was born on July 25, 2019 to mom Neliah and dad Tobias.

Tatu, an African lion cub born on July 25, 2019, got help from his keeper, Matt Lenyo, assistant curator of predators, to prepare him for new experiences.

“One of our primary goals with all animals at Denver Zoo is to help them build confidence and resiliency,” Lenyo said.

“Starting from when Tatu was very young, our zookeeper team made a conscious effort to introduce him to new things. We wanted to help Tatu be comfortable with change. We think our work paid off. When Tatu was first introduced to the public he was already comfortable seeing people and navigating his outdoor home. Lions are social animals, so Tatu also looks to his elders for cues on how he should react. Between our zookeeper team and his family pride, Tatu has an amazing support network.” 

Lenyo is part of the zookeeper team that cares for the lions, hyenas and wild dogs at the Denver Zoo.

“We are responsible for many aspects of Tatu’s care,” he said. “We make his diet in the morning, clean his bedroom areas during the day, and always set up fun enrichment items for him to play with. Our job is also to observe Tatu and his family pride closely. We want to make sure that their physical, social and behavioral needs are being met.

“At the zoo, our focus is for lions to be lions. We work hard to build positive relationships between animals and zookeepers, but at the end of the day, they are still wild animals. When we work with the lions here at Denver Zoo we always have some type of safety barrier between us and the animals. Because Tatu has grown up around our zookeeper team he is very comfortable when we are around and he is always curious about what we are doing. Overall though, Tatu is more like a kitten than a puppy. He likes to play, but nap time is very important to him.” 

Tatu, who will be five months old on Christmas Day, is one of three lion cubs at the zoo.  His parents are Tobias, a “first-time dad,” and Neliah. He is her third cub.

“Tatu is exceptionally adventurous and inquisitive,” compared to the other two cubs, said Lenyo. “He has developed really strong relationships with all of his family members, which is fun to watch. My absolute favorite memory of Tatu was the first time he met his dad, Tobias. Tobias is a brand new father and had never met a cub before. Tobias and Tatu adore each other and it is fun to watch their relationship grow.” 

Tatu is also popular with the children. “Kids seem to really enjoy Tatu’s adventurous spirit. They especially love watching him play with his older half-sister and snuggle with his dad.” 

Eleanor, the youngest of the babies, will be two months old on Dec. 23. She is a lesser kudu, and unexpectedly arrived the morning of Oct. 23, 2019.

“We were not expecting her arrival this early,” said the hoof-stock keeper who is caring for her, “but were happy to have her. Her parents are Moscato (mom) and Joe (dad). This is the second offspring for both, their first being Eleanor’s big sister, Winifred.”

A lesser kudu (Tragelaphus imberbis) is an ungulate (hooved animal). It is a forest antelope found in East Africa.

Eleanor, a lesser kudu stands with her big sister Winifred and their mom Moscato.

Eleanor and her family can be seen outside most days in their exhibit. She is most active between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., weather permitting (when it is sunny and the temperature is over 25 degrees).

Eleanor’s keeper cleans up after her and the rest of the herd, makes her bottles, feeds her, weighs her daily to make sure she is growing, and observes her interactions with the rest of the herd to ensure she is learning how to be a normal kudu. The zoo also provides enrichment to stimulate her, and her family and is working on getting her integrated into their training program.  

“Her favorite activities are eating – she loves her bottle, exploring her exhibit and being with her family,” her keeper said. “She can usually be seen hanging out with her sister Winifred, or aunt, Elsa, but also seems very curious about what her dad, Joe, is up to.

“I love every part about caring for Eleanor,” her keeper said, “but my favorite part is getting to bottle-feed her. It is a few minutes each day that we get to bond with her. I especially love coming in each morning and feeding her morning bottle. She is always right at the door ready to greet me, and I can’t resist her cute face. It makes my morning every time.

“While I love getting the opportunity to bottle-feed Eleanor because of the strong bond that has created, it is even more special to see her integrated so well with the rest of the herd and interact with them. When bottle-feeding an animal there is always a risk of behavioral differences between hand-raised animals versus parent-raised animals. But we were fortunate enough to be able to keep her with her herd as we have been raising her. This has provided her tremendous opportunities to learn natural behaviors from the rest of them, but be friendly and comfortable around humans, which can sometimes be challenging for prey species. It is very cool to see her equally as comfortable around her keepers and her herd members.

“We have committed a lot of time to Eleanor with bottle feeding, which has provided us such a unique opportunity to create a strong bond with her. She is turning out to be a very dynamic, curious, and smart individual and it has been so fun watching her grow and learn.”

But, sadly, Eleanor’s keeper knows the little kudu will not likely be able to stay at the zoo.

“It is difficult knowing that one day she will likely move to another institution when she is older, due to SSPs and breeding recommendations.”

The American Species Survival Plan (SSP program) helps ensure the survival of selected species that are threatened or endangered in the wild in zoos and aquariums.

“It will be sad for us watching her go, but great for her and whichever institution she ends up. I imagine this is what it is like watching kids grow up and go off to college.”

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