It’s no secret that I love the Rio Grande Zoo in Albuquerque so I always love to share the latest pictures I’ve taken. Recently, the zoo has begun offering behind the scenes tours of different animal exhibits and it has been a blast for us. Our first tour was with the rhinos and giraffes. We got to feed a baby giraffe and use a big scrub brush to scratch the rhinos! On our second tour, we got to feed the hippos as well as an adorable Muntjac deer. We always learn so much from the zookeepers. Seeing how much goes into keeping the animals safe, healthy, and happy is fascinating. It is especially interesting to be able to see the indoor housing which you don’t view as a normal visitor. There are feeding schedules, enrichment toys, special treats, management systems, and more. The zookeepers also share personal stories, often funny, about the animals. Our latest tour was for the Australia exhibits and it did not disappoint. It’s interesting to me how the zookeepers are generally a bit nervous when they first greet us to start the tour. But then they start talking about the animals they care for and something magical happens. You can just see the passion and love they have for the animals and what they do shine through. It isn’t long before you feel a connection to them and a certain envy that this is what they get to do every day.
The first exhibit we got to see this time around was for the Tasmanian devils. There are only a handful of zoos in the US to have Tasmanian devils so we are very fortunate. These guys are so vocal and have many different sounds to express what they are feeling. Females give birth to about 50 pea-sized babies and the strongest of the babies to make it to her pouch are the ones that survive. Since mama has four teats, up to four can survive but it’s usually two or three. Devils will not attack humans, only defend themselves if you try to mess with them. The most interesting thing I learned was that when devils fight each other, they will rip out some fur. When it grows back, it grows in white. So female devils are more attracted to males that have a lot of white fur. It shows they’ve proven themselves! This female devil put on quite a show for us.
Now my favorite marsupial is the wombat because they look like buff teddy bears. They also have a surprisingly high-pitched scream when you pick them up. Haha. Interestingly, their pouches are actually backwards so the pouch opens towards the female’s rear rather than her face. This allows her to dig without scooping dirt into her baby’s home! It also provides extra protection to the baby while the wombat is walking since she is so low to the ground. The other neat thing about wombats is that they have some super strong cartilage on their rumps which makes them more resistant to bites and scratches. If they are being chased, wombats will dive into their burrows and block the entrance with their butts. They can also use their powerful backs to crush the skulls of intruders against the roofs of their burrows. Wow!
So if you ever get the chance to “thump” a wombat’s butt, go for it. It’s amazing. And just look at the smile on the zookeeper’s face. He loves that wombat!
We also got to see and touch an armadillo. This is a three-banded armadillo. The fur on his underside is there so he can feel bugs while walking along and get his dinner.
Another fun part of our tour was getting to feed the lorikeets. They were very excited to see us and enjoyed getting some nectar. They also share their home with a kookaburra.
What an incredible opportunity to be able to take these tours. I highly recommend them especially since the ticket price all goes to funding enrichment for the animals. I love the Rio Grande Zoo!