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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Tales from the savanna, part one: new faces

Posted by: Kelly Gross, Zookeeper


Have you been wondering why the savanna exhibit at times looks empty?  Or have you been one of the lucky guests who has seen a beautiful new species of antelope springing about on the freshly growing grass?

Bontebok. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

The savanna exhibit is going through a bit of a transition right now. After our two elderly antelope passed away last year, the exhibit started looking and feeling rather empty. Managers worked to identify animals that were available and would fit in with our current collection. In the fall we received two female Grant’s gazelle and two male bontebok from San Diego Wild Animal Park.

The bontebok are a striking new addition to the savanna. Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Gazelle tentatively explore their new savanna home. Photo: Katie Ahl/Woodland Park Zoo.

We have displayed Grant’s gazelle before and hope to eventually acquire a male to begin breeding, so we can contribute to the zoo population. Bontebok are a new species to Woodland Park Zoo, and we are very excited to be able to display this attractive antelope and share its story with you.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

The bontebok is a dark brown, mid-sized antelope with a beautiful white blaze down its face and a white rump. It is from the South African Cape and during colonization almost went extinct. As the land was cultivated, bontebok were seen as competition and were shot. Herds became isolated until all that remained were 17 individuals, fenced in on one farmers land. In 1931, a new national park was established: Bontebok National Park. Later the park was moved to include the native vegetation, called fynbos, and the bontebok population began to grow. Today it is estimated between 2,500 and 3,000 individuals. Those original farming fences, no match for other species of antelope that can easily jump heights of 10 feet, were able to contain the bontebok and ultimately may have saved the species.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

This inability to jump very high was one thing we considered when preparing for the bontebok to be introduced to the large savanna exhibit. Perhaps our bontebok didn’t read the manual, however. On the first day we allowed them out to explore we encountered an unexpected setback. After sparring intensely and chasing each other around the savanna, one of them ended up in the patas monkey exhibit. Fortunately he was OK, but since that time we have not felt comfortable putting them on exhibit together. We are currently working on a solution that will allow us to display them successfully. In the meantime, we continue to give them time together in an off-view corral with supervision so they can interact with each other and maintain a bond.

Our bontebok, Hodor and Tyrion, will turn 2 years old this month. They were named at San Diego after characters from the book series/television show, Game of Thrones; Hodor because he was the larger of the two and Tyrion because he was much smaller. This will make sense to you if you have seen the show. I have not, so I can’t personally speak to the accuracy of this statement, but I’m told it is true.

Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/Woodland Park Zoo.

Since they are about the same size now it is more challenging to tell them apart, One way you can identify them is by tail length; Tyrion has a shorter tail. Another way to identify them is by their behavior, the differences of which are quite obvious when watching them navigate the savanna enclosure. Hodor is the dominant animal, is much more confident, and has explored all over. You may have seen him eating hay, knocking branches and logs about with his horns, or even chasing the mallards. Tyrion is much more timid during his exhibit time, choosing most often to stay near the corral where his buddy is waiting.

Hoser shows off the origin of her name in this behind-the-scenes shot. Photo: Kelly Gross/Woodland Park Zoo.

The two female Grant’s gazelle have had a much quieter life so far here at Woodland Park. Spirit, so named because her zoo identification number ends in 76 (as in, the Spirit of '76), was partially hand-reared with impala and is a bit hesitant in new situations. Hoser, which was just a nickname at first, is definitely the more food motivated of the two, and carrots are her treat of choice. Often she is the first to the food bowls and devours all of the carrot slices before Spirit even has a chance to get up!

I should mention her name has nothing to do with a Canadian insult. When antelope are shipped they have horn guards or in this case cut sections of garden hose taped to their horns to keep them from injuring themselves or each other during transport. When the gazelle arrived, only one section of hose remained attached. It was one way we could easily tell them apart, and Hoser kept her adornment for quite some time, so the name just stuck.

Spirit and Hoser on the move! Photo: Katie Ahl/Woodland Park Zoo.

Like the bontebok, the gazelle are physically very similar to each other, but if you look closely you can see that Hoser has a thicker band of black across her nose. The gazelle really seem to prefer the comfort of the barn, and who can blame them with all that rain we had this winter. Even when we have given them the choice of an outdoor area, they seem most content to rest under their heaters on the soft shavings inside. They have very slowly made progress up to this point, but just recently have begun exploring the exhibit, so hopefully you will start seeing them more soon!

Don't miss your chance to celebrate the wonders of wildlife with us at Woodland Park Zoo's first Spring Safari: African Wildlife Conservation Day coming up this Saturday, April 16.

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