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Fathers and Sons

 Baby boom in the Novosibirsk Zoo  10/10/2014, 15:35
Fathers and Sons
Photographs by Vera Salnitskaya

Summer is not only the most comfortable season for those of us living in the snowy Siberia but also the perfect time to visit the zoo. The weather is nice for walking around but, more importantly, the cubs and baby animals born in the spring have finally grown enough to come out of their cubbyholes. A Sib.fm correspondent went to the Novosibirsk City Zoo to meet its new inhabitants.

This year many animals in the Novosibirsk City Zoo became parents – sheep, yaks, deer, bakers, servals, jaguarundi, spotted deer, various birds, raccoons and wolverines, and almost all the big cats! Even the flying fox Lily of the "Night World" pavilion gave birth this spring to little ones who hide from sight, wrapped in their leathery wings.

The zoo prepares for each newborn as thoroughly as humans ready for childbirth: every spring all of the cages are cleaned and treated: the rods are burned with a blowtorch to kill microbes, sand is changed and new trees are brought in.

“Going into the cage where the newborns are is a huge responsibility. Our workers change into clean clothes, wash their hands, and sometimes even wear a mask to avoid unintentionally spreading an infection,” says the head of the big cat section of zoo Rosa Solovyova.

A four-month-old baby female jaguar Hera has already been transplanted from her mother: the mom went to another zoo, and the baby is meeting the world all on her own. Hera has a lot of toys in her cage: blocks, plush bunnies, but her favorite, according to the staff, is a bag full of grass hung from a rope.

This year, leopards and cheetahs did not yield offspring: snow leopards took a breather for themselves, and a female cheetah is getting less attention from the males than she’d like: if there are less than three or four males going after her, then having kids loses any interest for her. However, the lion cubs appear with a surprising regularity.

“Of course, not all of our visitors know about animals,” they haven’t seen all of them.

A boy, when being showed a badger, asked what it was. We told him and he inquired -“Why is Jerry Bad?”

“On the other hand, all children know what lemurs are – everyone has seen "Madagascar.” Forget about the kids – you should see the way some adults look at the domesticated pig - studying the snout and admiring the piglets! And some are surprised when they see squirrels running around freely – they think that they escaped from their cages,” said Mrs. Solovyova.

Having been born to Katanga and Cadron, a French couple, the baby leopard was destined for a French name – her mom and dad came to Novosibirsk from France.

“Finally, we decided that she’ll be our beautiful baby Belle,” says Rosa Solovyova.

“Folks are always worried that the animals go hungry. The cheetah and the leopard, for example, are always thin. But actually, we keep them hungry on purpose,” our guides joke.

According to Solovyova, all of the world's zoos control their animals’ breeding – the offspring only appears when there is room for it.

“Zoos usually leave two adult individuals of each species, and their offspring go off to zoos where of this species there are none. If, for example, there are lots of foxes everywhere, we will not let them mate, because then there is nowhere to send the pups off to,” explains Rosa.

According to her, in the recent years there is an increased demand for Pallas' cat sin the world, as such, the Novosibirsk Zoo has actively engaged in their breeding. Two Pallas' kittens, despite their tiny size, are already very serious, just like their older brothers. They are now being raised by a domestic cat, as the female Pallas' cat had no milk. The cat’s own kitten moved into the cage as well and immediately became the leader of this motley family.

“Oh, he’s the troublemaker alright! He’s always coming up with new games. The Pallas’ cats can’t keep up with him!”

Domestic cats are great mothers – they can nurse anyone – a squirrel, a bunny, a wolf cub, a little fox or even a baby jaguar. One time we had a domestic cat nurse lion cubs!

They take everyone in as if it were one of their own and start taking care of the young.

The cat will take care of the Pallas’ cats for another month and then go back to her owners.

“The little kitty also needs good owners – it is best if she moves to the country side. She loves catching mice and even learned to hunt them with the Pallas’ cats,” says Rosa.

Actually, according to the zoo keepers, breeding Pallas’ cats is hard work. They like everything to be perfectly clean, clean sand and it takes a lot of work to get all the conditions just right.The red wolves also had offspring.

The cub has grown up some but still asks for mother’s milk, though she isn’t letting him get any. In the wild, red wolves are amazing stratagems and talented hunters – each has his own role in the pack and they can take down even large deer.

The smaller the cat, the quicker her brood grows. As such, the Pallas’ cat babies only need about seven months to become fully grown and independent, while tiger cubs stick by their parents for up to three years.

Many zoos practice a tradition of bringing in animals from the wild to freshen up the gene pool. The Novosibirsk City Zoo had its last inflow of wild animals in the 1980’s.

“They got used to the zoo, though it was gradual. We had to place them in special cages, have a lot more trees and branches, lots of firs to make them feel safe. We had to feed them the sort of live animals to which they were used out there in the forest,” explains Solovyeva, “after about a year here they animal gets used to the smells and the people.”

The workers are sure that the zoo’s inhabitants know everything about each other. If one animal starts getting anxious, the anxiety gets passed throughout the zoo. When feeding time starts, the news makes it all around the zoo and even the inhabitants of the farthest away habitats line up by their feeding bins.

One of the zoo’s most honored fathers is the jaguarondi named Orpheus. Though his sides are gray with age, Orpheus never gets tired of providing kittens to zoos all around the world.

“We even sent some to South America,” says Solovyova, “for some reason they don’t want to breed there, so we have to help them out from Siberia.”

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