Fur-baby explosion

I’ve spent nearly a month of this summer away from the zoo, and what did I miss? Babies, mostly — home-grown Minnesota fur-babies, either born on site (lynx kittens) or rescued from the wild (moose calves). There’s a healthy batch of both: four kittens and six moose orphans that came our way via the DNR. Here are a couple of the kittens, who only recently started venturing into the exhibit (so maybe I didn’t miss that much after all). With all the high-speed scampering, getting all four and their mom in the same frame was out of the question. To see a previous generation of our lynx kittens attempting to navigate trees when they were a bit older than this, I refer you to my post from two birth cycles ago, An Epic Feline Frolic.

Minnesota Zoo lynx kitten in stream

lynx kittens and logs

The new lynx and moose are all somewhat more than three months old now, in late August, although the moose calves were born in separate batches over a period of nearly three weeks. Those calves have begun rotating in pairs through the outdoor exhibit, learning to nibble leaves from branches as they’re gradually weaned off bottle-feeding.

Minnesota Zoo moose calves

Northern Trail supervisor Diana, in the exhibit with the calves below, said this pair weighed about 180 pounds when I took these photos in early August. They’re coming along nicely since their discovery by DNR researchers as part of an ongoing study about declining moose populations in northeastern Minnesota.

moose calves and Diana

Minnesota Zoo moose artifactsA new volunteer feature this summer, besides our outdoor Big Bugs exhibit and the Conservation Carousel you walk by en route to Big Bugs, is the  “conservation cart” by the carousel. Inside, along with all the information about bees and other pollinators (a topic for another post) are moose “bench talk” artifacts: a section of antler rack, a piece of pelt, a jar of the “moose chow” that supplements the leaves and twigs in a zoo moose’s diet. My favorite moment so far with the antlers followed a question like the ones I explored in my previous post: “How did the moose die?” This gave me the perfect opening to talk about the temporary nature of antlers (shed naturally every December) compared with the more permanent nature of horns, and the lack of antlers in most deer species’ females (except caribou), and how antler growth is a response to hormone levels, which react to seasons and their varying hours of daylight. Moose are struggling in Minnesota, the southern tip of their geographic range, but nothing gives you hope for a species’ future like a big batch of thriving babies.

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Kittens, trees and ear-tufts

Yesterday’s good zoo-news: It was not only my zoo day, but our latest Canada lynx kitten’s first day on exhibit! He’s only out in the mornings, and I had the good luck to be scheduled on the Minnesota Trail at 10:30, so I could see sights like this:

I hadn’t seen lynx kittens trying to navigate trees since the Epic Feline Frolic two winters ago. This particular kitten is about three months old, and this particular treetop moment is deceptively graceful. In the fifteen minutes I spent watching him, there were far more moments like this:

He was all over his new habitat, exploring and sometimes hiding amid the foliage. Keeping visual track of him required a little effort:

Other times, his giant paws and tufted ears were plain as day:

The little guy’s mom was out and about, too, but giving him plenty of “me space.”

A guest and his daughter gave me the perfect chance to use some of my “interpretive” skills when they asked if these were bobcats. At nearly 30 pounds, the largest lynx is twice the size of the largest bobcat, with larger ear-tufts and less-variegated fur. And you generally won’t see lynx living in the wild this far south, or anyplace that doesn’t offer a buffet of its favorite food, snowshoe hare. You might not even see this little lynx unless you come early and watch very closely, in which case you’ll be richly rewarded.

An epic feline frolic

This one’s all about the cat photos, folks. I ducked out of the Minnesota Lodge yesterday, coatless, for a few minutes before my bullsnake demo to see if the lynx were out. And I hit the jackpot. Sadly, not another human soul was right there, right then to savor the live performance.

I hadn’t seen the two lynx kittens in quite awhile, and since they must be at least ten months old now, I wasn’t sure how kittenish they’d still be. The answer: very, very kittenish. In describing their high-octane antics, I can’t resist narrating events from the kittens’ perspective. I may have taken creative liberties with the order of events as well.

“It started near the cave. See our mom lurking back there in the shadows? See me licking my own nose in the foreground?”

“I salute you…”

“… and you swipe at me!”

“I chase you from the cave…”

“Hey, mom! We found a tree!”

“I dare you to climb up here. Go on, try.”

“I might be losing control here, a little.”

“Ack! Someone get me down!”

“I think this tree is safer.”

Here, kitty, kitty

Big zoo news last week: The five-month-old lynx kittens are now out on exhibit! An e-mail from the zoo warned that these two sisters were very shy and hanging toward the back of the exhibit, but apparently the situation is evolving rapidly. My first stop at lynx-land revealed no cats at all (their exhibit is roomy and leafy and ideal for hiding in), but 45 minutes later I came back, just in case, and saw this:

The group of us oohing and aahing at the window included a hard-core cat lover who was pretty much beside herself with joy. One kitten must have heard her, or at least liked the warmth of her facial expression, leading to this little tableau:

Even as adults, lynx have oversized paw pads (though not as disproportionate as this youngster’s) to help them track their chief prey, snowshoe hares, across snowdrifts. They’re known for their ambush tactics, rather than chasing prowess, in catching their prey, and where no snowshoe hares live, you’re unlikely to see lynx, either. Some who think they see lynx, which max out around 30 pounds, are really seeing bobcats, which are only half as big and have smaller ear tufts, too. These kittens, while no longer tiny, are not quite bobcat-sized — perhaps only 10 pounds. For comparison purposes, here’s the adult male lynx seen pacing last summer:

The difference of shape strikes me more than the difference in size: He just LOOKS OLDER, somehow. At least for now, this fellow is out on view in the afternoon and the kittens and their mom are out in the morning. Come see them soon, Twin Citians: They grow up too fast.