ZOO TALES: Since You Asked...
Every day at the North Carolina Zoo keepers and staff are asked every imaginable question, from water-fountain locations to the scientific name of a specific animal.
Most questions, though, are straight-forward and deal with things about which most zoo visitors are curious. Here are a few of our most-asked:
Why are your elephants red? Shouldn't they be gray?
Normally, in the wild, elephants have brownish-gray colored skin. In order to protect themselves from sunburn, insect bites and the cold, elephants dust themselves, throwing dirt over much of their body. Here at the zoo, most of our dirt is red. So when the elephants cover themselves with dirt, they take on the shade of our local dirt -- red.
Does the zoo take animals to schools or community centers?
Due to the risk of disease and danger in transportation, our animals do not leave the zoo; however, our education staff does use special animal ambassadors from the zoo's Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. These are typically injured or orphaned wildlife that are native to North Carolina. Often, because of their injuries, these animals are unsuitable candidates for release and some of them are used to help convey the important educational messages.
Don't some animals, native to hot climates, get cold at the zoo?
Extra measures are always taken during cooler weather to ensure that every animal at the zoo is comfortable, particularly in the outdoor African exhibits. Animals such as lions, chimps, elephants and giraffes are given access to indoor holding areas when temperatures are below 45 degrees F. Some animals have both an indoor and outdoor exhibit and can always be on exhibit. On the African Plains, some hoof stock are moved to their inside barn; others have heated sheds in their exhibit. Some animals, like the chimps, have special heated rocks to keep them cozy. Keepers also provide some animals with extra bedding materials during the winter. Acclimation to their environment also helps the animals keep comfortable year round.
Okay, is it buffalo or bison? What's the difference?
The American bison, usually incorrectly called a buffalo, is North America's largest mammal. An early English naturalist first described bison as buffaloes, and the name stuck. At the height of their population, they could be found as far south as Mexico and as far east as the Atlantic Coast. One herd was reported to be 20 miles long and five miles wide and contained an estimated 4 million animals. Their approaching sound, it was said, could be heard for miles.
Can I bring my pet to the zoo?
No. The N.C. Zoo follows guidelines set by the national governing body for zoo accreditation. For the protection of the animals, the zoo does not allow pets and does not offer a kennel service. Working dogs, such as seeing-eye dogs, are allowed into the zoo to accompany guests with disabilities.
With such a long neck, can giraffes pass out when they reach down for water?
Special valves and a network of tiny veins prevent a giraffe from blacking out when it lowers its heads to drink. Even though they have the longest necks of any mammals, they have only seven neck bones, the same as humans.
Do the alligators stop eating when it gets cold?
Both captive alligators and those in the wild stop eating entirely when the temperature drops below 70 degrees F because they can no longer digest food. In a North Carolina climate, that means they stop eating in October and begin again in April or May. Far from the man-eating monster portrayed in modern literature and films, the alligator is actually a shy, retiring animal that usually avoids humans whenever possible.
The rhinos are gray; why are they called "White Rhinos?"
White rhinos aren't really white at all. The name "white" is believed to be a mispronunciation of the Dutch Afrikaans' word "weit," meaning "wide," used to describe the rhino's wide, square lips that are especially adapted for grazing.
Tom Gillespie works for the public affairs office of the N.C. Zoo.
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