As you enter the zoo grounds, rambunctious squirrel monkeys leap through the tree branches while roseate spoonbills, swans and crested screamers enjoy the surrounding pond. As you wind your way through South America, you’ll see beautiful pink Chilean flamingos resting on one leg or wading in the water. You may hear the noisy macaws before you actually see them perched in their trees. Continuing on the shaded path, you will find cotton-top tamarins, giant anteaters, capybaras, king vultures and scarlet ibis.
Imagine eating up to 30,000 ants and/or termites each day. That is exactly what a giant anteater does. Using their powerful front legs and claws to rip open an ant or termite mound or nest, the anteater sticks its two foot long tongue into the mound, putting it in and pulling it out about 150 times a minute as it gobbles up all those ants or termites. An interesting fact about anteater feeding is that the anteater never completely destroys the ant/termite mound, but always leaves a bit so that the colony can come back assuring the anteater of dinner another day. At Caldwell Zoo we do not have enough ants to feed our anteater family, so they are fed a special diet of feline diet, dog chow, bananas, vitamin E and water – all mixed up to the consistency of a milk shake.
Giant anteaters are listed as vulnerable. They face habitat loss and are hunted as food, trophies or just as a curiosity.
Looking like giant Guinea pigs, this inhabitant of Central and South America is the world’s largest living rodent. Like Guinea pigs, the capybara’s young are very precocial, able to follow mom and to eat solid food shortly after birth. Unlike Guinea pigs, the capybara has only one litter of one to eight babies each year.
When alarmed, the capybara runs like a horse. Often it will use water for safety as it swims and dives well. The capybara has partially webbed feet and can actually swim underwater for quite a distance. When swimming, only the nostrils, eyes and ears appear above water. But not all predator-evasion strategies work, since one of the capybara’s main predators is the jaguar who is equally at home in the water.
Capybaras are farmed on some ranches in South America. Some researchers feel that the capybara is more rainforest friendly than cattle. The capybara is quite common and is not threatened.
There are six species of flamingos – four species that live in the Americas and two that live in Africa. Caldwell Zoo houses the Chilean flamingo from South America and the smallest of all the flamingo species, the lesser flamingo from Africa. Although flamingos are divided into six species, they have some common characteristics – beautiful pinkish feathers, long legs for wading, a beak designed for filter-feeding, and the ability to fly and swim well.
Because flamingos are colony breeders, it can sometimes cause concern within a zoo. Lesser flamingos do not breed well in captivity, so Caldwell Zoo and other zoos around the country are testing an innovative technique to try to stimulate breeding. The lesser flamingo’s indoor housing is lined with mirrors hoping that the flamingos “think” they are in a huge colony of birds and will then begin mating behaviors. In the past two years, Caldwell Zoo has seen more breeding behaviors in our lesser flamingos.