Crowded house, cool pool

I had my first beaver-sighting of the year in February and hardly expected another so soon, but fellow volunteer Chieko greeted me in the Tropics this week with exciting news: She’d just seen a baby beaver swimming! I high-tailed it over to the Minnesota Trail — fortunately, just where the volunteer schedule told me to go. I didn’t see any “kits” — the three or four babies born unexpectedly June 13 — but based on its size, I’m pretty sure this furry swimmer is a yearling from the previous batch.

Moments after I took this picture, the beaver arched its back and dived, dolphinlike, beneath the water. I had better luck observing the bigger, bulkier pair hanging out on the exhibit’s left-hand side, farther from the dam but closer to the handy ledge with a convenient pile of beaver chow and, within paw’s reach, a fine selection of sticks to fetch and chew.

Volunteers heard various theories as to why the beavers had emerged from their dam the past couple of weeks: the heat, the suddenly closer quarters since the kits’ arrival, the two enticing piles of beaver chow (upon first glimpsing the chow piles, I wondered if the beavers were filing their teeth on pieces of gravel).

This is actually my first glimpse EVER of a beaver’s tail on exhibit, although the zoo’s beaver “bench talk” box contains a preserved tail to show kids. The stick-fetching beaver seemed torn between clambering onto land and chilling in the pool. We spectators leaned over the railing to get a clear view every time the waterlogged rodent and its stick started to drift beneath a shelf of rock. I never did spot a tiny kit (YET!), but like the guests whose comments I overheard, I was just pleased to get an eyeful of the bigger guys. “We can tell Daddy we finally saw the beavers,” said a woman strolling onward ahead of me toward the next exhibit. And there’s sure to be a next time.


Sleepy pigs arise!

You might assume the two red river hogs in the new Faces of Africa exhibit never wake up — and so far at midday, I’ve only seen them in various states of repose — but stop by in the late afternoon, and it’s a whole different scene.

Photographically stymied at the zoo last week, I took my husband for a quick pre-dinner visit yesterday, aiming to dodge the end-of-school-year crowds and midday hubbub. Normally curled up at the exhibit’s far left edge, the hogs were trotting all over and mingling with the colobus and De Brazza’s monkeys alike.

The two male hogs even head-butted each other for a while in the deepening evening gloom, just as the zoo literature says they do in the wild. True to the species’ name, one of them splashed around a bit in the mini-river at the exhibit’s center. Sleeping or playing, their ears are a thing to behold: “leaf-shaped” and “tasseled,” as zoo lit describes them. Their sharp lower tusks help dig for roots and bulbs “like garden hoes,” and the warts beneath their facial hair protect against the jab of another hog’s tusks.

With a maximum size of 5 feet long and 250 pounds for males, these guys are still too “ugdorable” (zoo-lit term) to be intimidating. And despite the gloom of a rainy weekend evening, the zoo near closing time had a warm, intimate feel. The crowds had thinned out, but judging from the look of the parking lot at 5:55 p.m., the rest of us were reluctant to leave.