Santa Barbara Zoo set to showcase its newest attractions to the public
Twiga might not be as tall as her mother or father just yet, but the fervent giraffe is certainly adapting to his new lifestyle at the Santa Barbara Zoo with his head held high.
The new baby calf, born on March 27 to his mother Aida, is one of the newest attractions fellow zoo-goers will get to enjoy seeing for the first time when the zoo reopens to all patrons on Tuesday.
Santa Barbara Zoo Members were able to get the first look at Twiga on Saturday and could not have been more happy to see a new cute face in town. His name means giraffe in Swahili, a Bantu language spoken in East Africa.
“Everyone’s been really excited about Twiga especially,” Misty Gray, director of husbandry and welfare for the zoo, told the News-Press.
“Everyone’s been really happy to be back and see the animals, see their old friends and it’s just been really great to see.”
Twiga is not the only new face in town, however, as two new African lions are also at center stage for zoo-goers to enjoy.
Ralph and Felicia, a male and female lion, respectively, arrived at the zoo on May 6 with Ralph from Indianapolis Zoo in Indiana and Felicia coming from Riverbanks Zoo in South Carolina.
Ralph was born on September 21, 2015, while Felicia was born on April 10, 2018.
The couplet are the first African lions at the zoo since Chadwick, the zoo’s previous 21-year old lion, passed away in December 2019.
The two began their arrival going through the standard 30-day quarantining process, but are now out in the exhibit area, placed right alongside the giraffe exhibit and Twiga.
“That actually was the longest part of the process. They were both kind of like, ‘What’s out there? What are those tall giant things next to us?’” Ms. Gray said with a laugh.
“But they’ve done a fantastic job. They’ve been a great pair. It was one of the easiest big cat introductions that I’ve ever been a part of.”
The two have a breeding recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, so the zoo hopes that within the next couple of years they could celebrate the birth of a new lion.
Focusing on the now, however, the staff at the zoo has been diligent in taking care of the lions especially.
With the novel coronavirus still affecting day-to-day life, there have been cases of COVID-19 found inside big cats, the most notable story coming from the Bronx Zoo when eight of its big cats were confirmed to have the virus.
“Our biggest changes have been with our personal protective equipment, so in order to go into the lion space, we do have to wear actual surgical masks, or an N-95, not just the cloth masks. We also wear gloves if we’re touching any other surfaces and we are wearing coats over our clothing, just to make sure that we are not spreading anything to them or getting anything from them as well as separate shoes and foot pads. If we’re going to be feeding them we do so within six feet of them,” Ms. Gray said.
Still, the lions have done well so far at the zoo and the staff hopes to continue seeing them be happy, especially with patrons coming to marvel soon.
As for Twiga, the baby calf is maturing by the minute and as such is currently being weaned off her mother’s milk and is starting to eat leaves by herself.
“At this point we just make sure he is defecating or urinating regularly and just make sure his mom is paying attention to him. As long as mom’s doing her job we can be very hands off and that’s the ideal situation,” Ms. Gray said.
While Twiga enjoyed the baby spotlight for a couple months, he soon will be joined by another calf.
Audrey, a fellow female giraffe, will be giving birth to her fifth calf within the next couple of weeks. Her due date is early July but Ms. Gray said it really could be “any day now.”
“When they are first born, we do keep things quiet so it’s just the primary one or two keepers and the vet will check in on them. Within the first 24 hours, the calf will be separated from his mother for 5 to 10 minutes just to be weighed and see what sex it is, then delivered right back over to mom,” Ms. Gray said.
The timing from birth to being at the exhibit area depends usually on the mother, according to Ms. Gray.
Since Aida was a first-time mom, the staff let her go at her own pace in introducing Twiga to the outside. Twiga came out to the yard within a week.
An experienced mother, Audrey will likely be a bit more laid back in her approach to welcoming her newest child.
“She’s a much more laid back individual anyways, so we will see but we are very excited,” Ms. Gray said.
In general, maintaining the animals at the zoo during the quarantine has been a top priority of the staff. While they don’t have to wear full PPE as they do with the lions, Ms. Gray did say that the staff still wears masks and gloves around all the animals just as a precautionary measure.
“This is still a new disease and there are a lot of unknowns so we’d rather play it safe than sorry,” Ms. Gray said.
There are also new protocols at the zoo when it reopens, ones that adhere to the current guidelines in place by the County.
Sanitation crews will be wiping down high-touch areas consistently, while other common procedures such as wearing a face mask and social distancing rules will also be enforced.
Daily attendance will also be limited, there will be more sanitation areas around the zoo, most areas will be one-ways and only debit or credit cards will be accepted for payment options.
“There’s a lot of new things that we need to take into account but we’re just trying to make sure that we’re making the best decisions to keep our staff and our guests and our animals safe,” Ms. Gray said.
“But it’s been really nice seeing people back and seeing how happy people are to be back here. It’s been very quiet, and it’s been nice to be able to get a lot of projects done and a lot of things that we can’t normally do, like shutting down an area to do a lot of work in it, but we’re here for the guests to experience the animals and learn about the animals and appreciate the animals.”