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January 29, 2013 > At the Oakland Zoo 'Everyone Wants to Carry the Babies'

At the Oakland Zoo 'Everyone Wants to Carry the Babies'

By Denny Stein

Spring did its thing, again last year, and Oakland Zoo babies are now closing in on their first birthday. Many are on exhibit, so go see the new generations! On a visit, walking through the entrance, two four year old boys held this conversation: "Malcolm," said one, "how old are you?" "I don't know," said the other, "my age keeps changing." So don't wait to visit your zoo, because the animals are growing and changing too.

When you think of adorable young zoo babies, what comes to mind? Monkeys, giraffes, otters, wallaroos? Yes, they are all there. But first stop, the reptile house, houses a tiny white-speckled frog, perfectly formed, as big as your thumbnail. That's the Amazon milky tree frog, sometimes known as the mission golden eye tree frog because of the golden cross on its pupil. Milky tree frog eggs turn into tadpoles, develop legs and become tiny froglets in about four weeks. In June, over 100 milky tree frog babies hatched.

The next nursery contained the precocious (because of their live birth) spiny blue lizard. Reptile Amphibian Keepers, like Adam Fink, are responsible for making sure the eighteen newbies get the best diet and light to grow big enough to discourage the gila monsters from seeing them as a meal.

It's harder to raise the nine spotted turtles. Eggs are incubated and require close attention to temperature and humidity; the sex of the turtle is determined by the temperature at which they're incubated. Therefore, their keeper "parents" can control the ratio of male to female births. Once hatched, these little endangered turtles are fed a natural diet of crickets, worms, rodents, and salad... quite a picnic.

As for the mammals, three sleek, cute as a button, new inhabitants reside in the river otters' fresh water pool and grassy hillock area. For the past two years, Ginger and Heath, have produced a litter. The small dark brown bodies can flip and dive through the water, twisting and playing with each other and their toys for hours. Otters in general, but baby otters in particular, are totally entertaining and endearing.

But if you think that's cute, get a peek at the baby wallaroos in the Wild Australia exhibit. You have to hop a train to travel through this area, but the emus and wallaroos are used to the traffic. You'll have a fair chance of seeing a baby "joey" riding in his mama's pouch, just his head poking out to survey the activity. Joeys start out the size of a kidney bean and don't even peek out until they are six months old. Adult female wallaroos can have three babies at once, each in a different stage of development: a toddler, an infant, and one "on hold" in the gestational stage. The mother produces different milk for the toddler and the infant, according to their nutritional needs.

There's a reticulated kid at the zoo also. No, it's not a python, it's a giraffe. Baby Maggie was born last January weighing eighty pounds and measuring seventy-two inches high. She's quite active and playful, but is also going to "school" behind the scenes, where her keepers are acclimating her to vet visits and working with humans.

In contrast to the dusty veldt-like giraffe enclosure, the squirrel monkey pen is full of greens, canopy trees, grasses, and low bushes, punctuated by climbing logs, hanging toys and feeding stations. At least one squirrel monkey has a baby, but it's hard to spot them. Look for a small monkey firmly perched on the back of an adult. The adult may or may not be the baby's mother because, as their keeper Danielle Stith told us, "Everyone wants to carry the babies." So the aunties, or even sometimes a juvenile male, will sidle up to the mom and transfer the baby to their own back. The baby instinctually, and tightly, grips the fur of its new ride and off they go, swinging and leaping from limb to netting to rock. Hard to imagine but brilliant to watch.

Just as vultures clean up the larger debris of the wild, millipedes eat their way through the tiny bacterial excesses of what's left over. The tiny white babies take three years to become full size and require judicious monitoring and control of temperature and humidity. According to Adam Fink, Millipedes don't really have a thousand legs, but perhaps one hundred. They have segmented bodies with two legs per segment. If you count down seven segments and a pair of legs is missing, you're looking at a male! Full grown adults, coiled up, are truly beautiful, resembling a shiny exotic rock in the desert.

A visit to the Oakland Zoo is always entertaining and informative, but it is even more interesting when the babies are out and about.

Oakland Zoo
9777 Golf Links Rd., Oakland
Monday - Friday: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Saturday, Sunday, & Holidays: 10 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
(510) 632-9525

Photo Caption: Milky Frog. Photo credit: Adam Fink

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