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June 18, 2013 > Two Too Two Cutes in One

Two Too Two Cutes in One

By Denny Stein

I think if you haven't been to the Oakland Zoo (OZ) in a while, it's time for another visit. In the new Animales de los Arboles exhibit, the brown-nosed coati- mundis and the cotton-top tamarin are sharing a tall, multi-level habitat that sits right along one of the main paths at the zoo. You can't miss it. This is the first time any zoo has ever attempted to mix these two South American forest animals in one enclosure.

So to start, what is a coatimundi? At first glance, you might think she or he is a combination raccoon and anteater. It has a long bushy tail about the same length as its furry body and she uses it for balance, kind of like a tight-rope walker's pole. What color is his nose? If it's a long brown tipped nose then this coati is from the southern part of the South American continent; the white-nose coatis live further north. Both coatimundis are playful and curious. They root in fallen logs, through bushes, around rocks, and in streams for food. What looks good to a coati? Well, fruit and eggs, just like us, but bugs, frogs, small rodents, and lizards are pretty delicious also.

In the OZ enclosure you can watch the coatis busily poking around in the dirt hillsides, sniffing and nibbling. Four of them followed each other through a culvert tunnel, out the other side and back in again! They're mischievous and on the move, which makes for good watching for the whole family (of humans that is!). The OZ has two brown-nosed coatis, a male and a female. They were born in South America, but these two came from Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Zoo is where they were waiting.

But what else is in the enclosure with these coatis? Look up, into the tall tree branches. Can you see a little monkey? That's a cotton-top tamarin, one of the smallest species of primate in the world. Why do you think it's called a cotton-top? Well, because of the white fluffy fur on top of its head and over its shoulders.

They are so cute that you just want to hold them and pet their cottony heads... but that's exactly why they are now very endangered in the wild. It's against the law to capture and sell the cotton-top tamarins, but bad people do it anyway. And others have been cutting down the trees and forests where they live. Your Oakland Zoo works with a wildlife center called ARCAS, in Guatemala, to rescue and save monkeys, parrots, ocelots, jaguars and coatis from smugglers who try to capture and sell them for pets.

On their own in the forest, the cotton-top tamarins are diurnal, that means awake during the day (like us). The mother and daughter in the Animales de Los Arboles exhibit are tiny, but they have very loud voices and will let you know if they feel threatened or excited. During the night, they rest easily in the treetops and, thanks to their keepers, they have nice warm boxes to snuggle in.

The Oakland Zoo has some of the best animal keepers around. They fix up special toys and food, called enrichment, to keep their animals interested and curious even though they are no longer in the wild. Want to give a coati a real thrill? Take a paper bag, stuff it with straw and mealworms and leave it out for the coatis to find. Stand back and watch them claw the bag apart and poke all around to make a meal of those worms. Now that's fun. Of course, there's the old fruit hanging on a string trick or bugs in a stick with holes. How would you make an attention-grabbing toy for a curious animal?

There's lots more to watch, and to learn about, with coatis and tamarins. But remember, the Oakland Zoo is the only zoo where you'll see them together, just as you might in the wild.

Oakland Zoo
9777 Golf Links Rd., Oakland
(510) 632-9525
Mon - Fri: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Sat, Sun, holidays: 10:00 a.m. - 5:30 p.m.
(closed June 22)

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