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July 30, 2014

The Golden Years

Updates on a few of our Senior Animals

Just like humans, animals can have some health challenges as they get older. Muscles get stiff. Arthritis can set in. And, often times, blood pressure needs to be regulated. There are good days and some not-so-good days, too.

Thanks to regular check-ups, scientifically-designed diets, dental exams, exceptional care and good genetics, the Zoo’s animals tend to age very well and many live well past their median life expectancies. The quality of life of these animals is a priority, and they are all closely monitored and cared for.

Over the last several months, we’ve been honoring our senior animals by telling their stories in a Waterhole feature, “The Golden Years.” We will continue to tell their stories in the upcoming months, but we wanted to give an update on a few of our seniors who’ve recently had some changes to their heath.

Angie, African lion

Angie is the Zoo’s African lion matriarch. At 19 years old, she’s surpassed the median life expectancy of a captive lion by more than two years, and outlived her wild counterparts by five. She’s currently on a quality-of-life watch, which means keepers are monitoring seven key indicators, including healthy appetite, social interactions, moving normally and showing interest in her surroundings.

“Angie is still interacting socially with her daughter, Zwena, and is very interested in enrichment items, especially rolling in zebra poop,” Dina Bredahl, Animal Care Manager, said. “She recently discovered the outdoor exhibit’s cave. This is a sign that she continues to make progress with her comfort level in that space.”

Bredahl explained that these are all good indications that Angie’s quality of life is good, but a recent and brief decline in her health make her cautious about how long Angie may have.

“She stopped eating, was vomiting and seemed a bit unstable on her feet,” Bredahl said. “We called vet staff, and went through all of the quality of life indicators.”

The Zoo’s veterinarian team started special treatment on Angie immediately.

“Angie is currently in what we would consider hospice care,” Dr. Eric Klaphake, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo Veterinarian, said. “She is currently taking a blood pressure management medication and an anti-inflammatory steroid.”
Her condition improved greatly in just a few days, but she will continue to be monitored by keeper staff.

“Angie participates in a number of husbandry training behaviors that are very beneficial for us to monitor her health,” Dr. Klaphake said. “They are able to draw blood from her tail, which helps us watch for kidney disease, and they weigh her regularly.” 

Klaphake said that just like an older domestic cat, geriatric lions frequently have kidney failure, but that they haven’t seen any signs of that in Angie.

“If she had a few bad days in a row and fluids and medication didn’t help, we’d have to make a very difficult decision.” Bredahl said. “In the meantime, we’re admittedly spoiling her with all her favorite meats – steak, pork and chicken. Her new favorite treat is whipped cream from a can, so we give her that, too.”
Animal keepers also let Angie decide where she wants to spend her time, which is frequently in the Lion Relaxation Room. You can pick out Angie by her lighter fur.

Wicket, Nile hippo

Wicket is the newest, but eldest, Nile hippo at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo. She arrived at the Zoo in 2012. At 44 years old, she’s experiencing signs of old age including arthritis, cataracts, a few loose teeth and, most noticeably, skin abscesses. She, like Angie, is on a quality-of-life watch.

“Wicket hasn’t felt well a few days this month,” Roxanna Breitigan, Animal Care Manager, said. She’s been slow to shift out of the pool and seems stiff when moving around. She’s also had a few skin abscesses that have ruptured.”
Wicket’s age makes her prone to skin sores.  

 “We put glycerin on her every day to keep her skin hydrated,” April Allen, Lead Aquatics Keeper, said. “After that, we clean areas where she needs it with chlorhexidine, a type of soap, and then put on ointment to protect sensitive areas.”

The Zoo’s veterinarians also have Wicket on medications that help with her aging ailments, including antibiotics, an anti-inflammatory pain medication, and a medication called lubrisyn, which aids join health. Keepers help the veterinarian team monitor Wicket’s health by getting regular weight measurements on her and by taking photos of her so they can make sure her body condition isn’t changing. Despite aging issues, she has a good appetite and still enjoys getting her favorite foods – pineapple, wet alfalfa and popcorn. She also loves peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which is how keepers give her medication.

“We are giving Wicket the highest level of care, making her comfortable, and letting her decide where she wants to spend her day,” Breitigan said. “Lately, she’s been spending a lot of time in the outdoor pool or sleeping in the sun.”

You can see Wicket in Aquatics, where she alternates with our other two hippos between the outdoor and indoor exhibit.

To read more stories from The Waterhole, or to keep up with the latest news, events, and behind the scenes happenings at the Zoo, sign up to receive e-newsletters:  http://www.cmzoo.org/aboutZoo/pressBox/waterhole.asp.

July 14, 2014

Black-footed Ferrets in the Centennial State

By: Steve Forrest, Defenders of Wildlife Blog 

Black-footed ferret, © Kylie Paul/Defenders of Wildlife
It’s been 33 years since the black-footed ferret did its Houdini act by reappearing on the high plains of Wyoming.  Only a few years earlier, it had been declared extinct in its southern range, and had not been seen in the wild for years anywhere. The ferret loss was due to the dramatic human-caused destruction of prairie dogs – its main food source – and prairie dog colonies. Then, in 1981, there it was again, its small head once again periscoping from prairie dog burrows near Meteetsee, Wyoming as it surveyed its dwindling habitat. Even the most jaded recognized this as a sign – a “do-over” rarely offered up by Mother Nature. That may be one reason for the passion that has followed this recovery effort. Collectively we’d fumbled the “last chance” once before and it wouldn’t say much about our commitment to conservation or our technical skills if we let the slinky-shaped ferret slip through our hands again given this reprieve. After many false starts, genuine recovery efforts started in the mid-1990s.

A reintroduced ferret scopes out its new home.

Ft. Belknap Ferret Release, © Russ Talmo
Last month, I attended the first-ever meeting of the Colorado black-footed ferret working group.  You might think it curious that Colorado biologists had not convened earlier to discuss the fate of the species in the state, since Colorado has been “ferret central” for decades.  Wellington, Colorado houses the federal captive breeding center where most of today’s ferrets are produced and trained for life in the wild.  The Cheyenne Mountain Zoo in Colorado Springs has likewise been producing ferrets for reintroduction for decades and is where the lead advisor of the group tasked with ensuring captive breeding success resides.  The Wellington center is also home to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) Black-footed Ferret Recovery Coordinator, and the Regional office of the USFWS  is in Lakewood, where all things Endangered Species Act for most states within the range of the ferret are decided.  Thus, the path to recovery for the ferret has always been led through the state.

Ferret reintroduction was given a chance here many years ago, in the northwest corner of the state. Unfortunately this early ferret reintroduction effort failed – likely due to a lack of protection for prairie dogs (a primary food source for ferrets), both from unregulated shooting and from plague, which killed many prairie dogs.  In truth, not everyone in Colorado was gung-ho on ferret reintroduction.  Colorado legislators passed a bill several years ago that precluded ferrets (and other endangered species) from being reintroduced anywhere in the state without legislative approval, which hindered participation of state biologists in the ongoing ferret recovery program for years.

Black-footed ferret, © Jonathan Proctor/Defenders
Persistence paid off as the USFWS relentlessly chipped away at resistance to ferret restoration in Colorado. What broke the logjam in 2013 was a new program offered up by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in coordination with the USFWS that offered private landowners compensation for growing prairie dogs.  At the same time, a new statewide “Safe Harbor Agreement” between the USFWS and the state gave regulatory assurances that the presence of ferrets would not hinder existing activities like ranching or oil and gas development. Seeing an opportunity to turn their wildlife management challenge into a benefit, private landowners made it known that it might not be such a bad idea for some to get into the ferret-friendly ranching business.  And so a year ago, black-footed ferrets were released on private land.  The Walker Ranch near Pueblo, Colorado is the state’s first try with the new program.  Already, this year, demand is so high for the program that Defenders is supporting the NRCS and USFWS efforts to sort through the prospective new ferret-friendly landowners. We do this by supplying a contractor to collect data on prairie dog abundance that will help prioritize which landowners have the largest prairie dog colonies – and therefore the best chances of success for ferret reintroduction.

And so, amidst the glaze of donuts and the pots of coffee, Colorado’s biologists, those working for state, federal and nonprofit agencies, are at last sitting down to chart the future of the species in the state.  Speaking personally, the renewal and hope that accompanies restoration and reintroduction stands in sharp contrast with what most people in the room are faced with daily…the tally of disappearing habitat, lost opportunities, and impacts to wildlife from things great and small.  So the mood is jolly, a chance to get in on the ground floor of what we hope will be a new growth industry in Colorado…the comeback of the black-footed ferret and the grassland ecosystem it protects through its presence.

Steve Forrest is the Senior Rockies & Plains Representative for Defenders of Wildlife
Original article posted at: http://www.defendersblog.org/2014/06/black-footed-ferrets-centennial-state/

July 7, 2014

Meet Roxie!

Roxie, the Zoo’s 37-year-old western lowland gorilla, is the oldest gorilla in our troop of seven. She also just might be the coolest animal at the Zoo, according to Mandy Hester, Primate World Lead Keeper. 
Though she’s older and has had a few health issues, she still loves to play with the younger gorillas and her best gorilla buddy, 21-year-old Kwisha.
“Roxie and Kwisha love to play together,” Hester said. “When the two of them are separated from the rest of the troop for husbandry training, they giggle, grumble and wrestle with each other. It’s great to see them support each other, since they are the two that are the lowest in dominance.” 
Gorillas are always live in troops, or groups. Within each troop, there is a hierarchy based on dominance.  The silverback gorilla is always at the top of the social structure and each female has their place below the male.
“Roxie may be the lowest ranked gorilla, but she’s the nicest,” Hester said. “She gets along with everyone in the troop and is great with the kids. Dembe, our youngest gorilla, can frequently be seen relaxing or playing on Roxie’s belly.”
Roxie is also great at learning new husbandry behaviors. Throughout her life, she’s had a few health issues, including one non-working kidney and abdominal and groin abscesses. Hester was able to train Roxie to place her toes on the training mesh and lean way back so Hester could spray an antiseptic on her sores. Hester says the training has been invaluable for caring for them, but also it’s a great indication of just how smart Roxie is.
“She learns complex behaviors very quickly,” Hester said. “She seems to really enjoy her training time, and is always eager to work with keepers. Because of how quickly she learns, she’s taught me a lot about animal training, and I’m a better animal keeper because of her.”
Hester is currently training Roxie to voluntarily participate in heart ultrasounds. Roxie is asked to press her chest up to the training mesh, while Hester holds the ultrasound equipment to her heart for a short period of time.
“Since she’s higher in age, and we know that gorillas can have the same heart issues as older humans, we are attempting to proactively monitor her.” Hester said. “We are working with Rafiki on the same heart ultrasound training.”
Hester says she also loves what Roxie does after her session is over.
“After Roxie is done training, she stays and watches Kwisha’s training sessions,” Hester said. “It’s really amazing; she’s actually given Kwisha more confidence in her training and is a big comfort to her. She also occasionally gives extra encouragement and starts to clap during training.”
Roxie was never able to have offspring due to health issues in her younger years, but Hester says that she’s always been a natural caregiver to the gorilla kids, and that she’s an integral part of the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo gorilla troop. 

June 19, 2014

World Giraffe Day - June 21

By: Andrea Bryant, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo  Giraffes/Lions Animal Keeper

Cheyenne Mountain Zoo is home to one of the largest and most prolific giraffe herds in the country.  Our herd is currently comprised of 18 individuals with 198 giraffe calves born at the Zoo since the 1954.  With giraffes being such a common and successful zoo animal, wild giraffes must be doing well too, right?  Unfortunately the answer is no.  

Wild giraffe populations are declining due largely to human activities such as agricultural expansion, habitat loss, and poaching.  In 1999, there were an estimated 140,000 giraffes in Africa.  Today, fewer than 80,000 giraffes remain in the wild, a decline of more than 40% in just over a decade. 

Luckily, there is hope.  Field conservation organizations like the Giraffe Conservation Foundation (GCF) are working to protect these amazing animals.  By collecting data on giraffe populations, locations, and behaviors, conservation initiatives can be enacted to help save giraffes. 

To help raise public awareness of the “silent crisis” wild giraffe populations are currently undergoing, GCF and zoos around the world are gearing up for the first ever World Giraffe Day on Saturday, June 21 – our zoo will celebrate the event from 10 a.m. – 3 p.m. in African Rift Valley.

Please join Cheyenne Mountain Zoo as we celebrate the longest-necked animal on the longest day of the year. At the event we will celebrate the gentle giants while learning what can be done to help save wild giraffes.  Activities for World Giraffe Day include: learning how reducing your carbon footprint, taking a pledge to save giraffes, testing your skills in identifying individual Cheyenne Mountain Zoo giraffes based on their spot patterns and participating in a giraffe parade. 

For more information, please visit:  http://www.cmzoo.org/docs/WorldGiraffeDay2014.pdf.

June 5, 2014

Strawberry Avocado Salsa

This week, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo's chefs mixed up a recipe for strawberry-avocado salsa. This versatile salsa is a great topping for pork, burgers, sandwiches, pitas, crackers, bread and more!

Strawberry Avocado Salsa


  • 1 cup finely chopped strawberries
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped peeled avocado
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 teaspoon grated lime rind
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped seeded jalapeƱo pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar


  1. Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl; toss gently. Serve immediately.