Paulene Keller 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Lynyrd sleeps all day, but when darkness comes, he hangs with his friends Joaquin Coati, Kindilan “Fat Boy” Wombat, Sparky Sloth, and Sai-Slow Loris. None of them have jobs, but Cathy, Adrienne, and Amber always make sure they have enough food and a place to sleep. Why do these women love them so much? Lynyrd and his friends are charming, loyal to their women, and, well, these animals of the night rule! At the Memphis Zoo. The women — Night Team Lead Cathy Krenn and zookeepers Adrienne “A.J.” Saunders and Amber Hoehn — watch over the motley crew that make up the zoo’s Animals of the Night exhibit. The exhibit began in 1995 when the zoo’s Primate Canyon Opened and all the mammals were moving to their new home. Director Chuck Brady — now president and CEO of the zoo — realized that many of the mammals were too small for the new primate area, and he seized the opportunity to create a nocturnal exhibit. Today, Animals of the Night is home to more than 40 species, including lorises, lemurs, binturongs, wombats, and cacomistles. Cathy, A.J., and Amber — each a volunteer before accepting fulltime positions at the zoo — have named many of them. Lynyrd, the slender loris, is described as “a banana on stilts.” The cacomistles and lemurs have small bodies and big eyes that look like they’re wearing way too much eyeliner, but they make perfect characters for movies such as Madagascar. Then there are the bats! A long bat flight in the center of the building is home to 400 little upside-down hang gliders in search of food. The glass walls have an eerie ability to draw in visitors — even those who don’t really like bats — for a closer look. “There is a stigma about bats,” says Cathy, who has worked at the exhibit for seven years. “Many people are terrified of them, but we get more questions about bats than about all the other animals.” On either side of the bat flight is where the armadillos, porcupines, lorises, sloths, kinkajous, and other species live and play the night away. “Every morning, we make up their special diets in the kitchen while we catch up with the person whose shift is ending,” says Cathy, “and that takes a couple of hours. We feed the animals and then start cleaning, which takes most of the day.” Cleaning and feeding the bats, for instance, requires going inside the bat flight And hosing smudges and bat poop off the glass and floor. Before lights-out in the mornings, bats are fed a fruit smoothie, and in the afternoon, they are given fresh fruit, fish, crickets, mealworms, and canned cat food.Carrying buckets of food for all the animals is a physical workout in its own right. “The animals get occupational therapy to encourage natural behavior,” says A. J., who has worked at the exhibit for three years. “We put food in trees or in a bag or box so they will have to work to open it. This is called ‘enrichment.’” Cave cockroaches — two to four inches long — and insects are also released into the exhibit allowing the mammals to hunt for Prey and heighten their natural instincts. A sudden face-to-face with giant cave cockroaches has been known to trigger the staff’s “flight-or-fight” instincts. Now, a “CC” sign is placed on the exhibit door after cockroaches are released. “Food makes it easy to train the animals to go into crates and step on scales,” says Cathy. A.J. trains mongoose lemurs, and Amber trains cacomistles and porcupines.Cathy trains kinkajous, but when she tried to train Sparky the sloth, he was way too “food-motivated” and had to drop out of the program due to weight gain. But Lynyrd the slender loris was caught watching food preparation through holes between his cage wall and the kitchen, so Cathy, A.J., and Amber adapted his training program. Now, on command, Lynyrd moves to a specific peephole to receive “little” treats. But one day, Lynyrd and another loris were not their mischievous selves. The zoo veterinarians found a blood-sugar imbalance, and now Lynyrd must have insulin shots twice a day. A porcupine also has diabetes that’s regulated with diet, because giving insulin shots could get a little “sticky.” Zoo veterinarians give the animals yearly physicals. Maintaining good health is critical because, “When some of our animals pass Away, the zoo won’t be able to get that species anymore,” says Cathy. “Many are endangered or threatened species, and the countries they come from have laws protecting them. The importing and exporting that was once freely done throughout countries isn’t done anymore.” The Species Survival Plan Program works through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums to track the breeding of endangered species to enhance survival. “It’s computer dating for animals,” says A.J. It’s not very romantic, but studbook coordinators follow genetic typing to determine the best matches for that species. Occasionally, mothers reject their offspring.“We have all hand-raised babies,” says Cathy, “and we take them home with us to do so.” This includes bats, bush babies, armadillos, prehensile-tailed porcupines, and tamanduas. Bottle-fed baby bats, such as Chirpy and Pippi, still recognize their human mothers after being released into the bat flight. Not all babies survive. “The highs of raising babies are really high, and the lows of losing animals are really low,” says Cathy. Even captive breeding doesn’t guarantee survival of a species, but it increases the odds. The Memphis Zoo recently received a pair of binturongs, a carnivore that resembles cross between a bear and a cat, found in the Tropical rainforests of Southeast Asia. What keeps Cathy, A.J., and Amber so passionate about their work at the Memphis Zoo? “It’s a great environment!” says Cathy.“How many places can you work where a wombat is running around in the kitchen?” The Memphis Zoo, Omaha Zoo, and Cincinnati Zoo are home to three of only a few remaining nocturnal exhibits in the U. S. In January 2011, Animals of the Night closed, but only for a facelift. Cathy, A.J., and Amber moved 180 bats to a large cage while new glass was installed in the bat flight. The larger mammals were rotated around as their sections of the building were cleaned. When the exhibit reopened in March 2011, the bat flight floor was repaired and treated to make it less slippery, the public’s floors were cleaned and painted, and everything was sparkling bright for the dark again. The animals of the night were once again ready to receive their guests. Memphis Zoo Animals of the Night, 2000 Prentiss Place, Overton Park, 276-WILD, memphiszoo.org.
Published by Downtowner Magazine. View All Articles.
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