Michelle Valois says a typical day at the Denver Zoo is a lot of fun and a lot of work. Valois, a primate zookeeper, has been at the Denver Zoo for 17 years. Her job is to take care of the orangutans …
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WHAT: Enchanted Hollows
WHEN: 6 to 9:30 p.m. Oct. 26 and 27
WHAT: It’s time to travel an eerie trail where the darkness has almost all but taken hold, where creatures and spirits infamous in stories and lore rise to life in the new night walk experience at the Denver Zoo.
TICKETS: Buy tickets at www.denverzoo.org/events/enchantedhollows.
WHAT: Boo at the Zoo
WHEN: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 27 and 28
WHAT: The 34th annual Boo At The Zoo offers trick-or-treat stations, creepy crawly animal demonstrations and family-friendly entertainment under the canopy of the fall foliage at the Denver Zoo.
TICKETS: All activities are included in the price of admission, or covered under membership. Buy tickets at www.denverzoo.org/events/booatthezoo.
This fall the Denver Zoo welcomed five new animals.
The Denver Zoo is now home to the largest bachelor herd of Asian elephants in North America following the arrival of two new residents — Jake and Chuck.
Jake, 8, and Chuck, 10, arrived at Denver Zoo in late September from African Lion Safari in Ontario, Canada, and join the zoo’s current Asian elephant inhabitants, Groucho, Bodhi and Billy.
“Denver Zoo is deeply committed to the protection of Asian elephants and uniquely qualified to house and provide exceptional care for multiple bulls,” said Brian Aucone, senior vice president for animal sciences at Denver Zoo. “We designed and built Toyota Elephant Passage to support the Asian elephant population in North American zoos, and establish Denver Zoo as a worldwide leader in the care of male Asian elephants.”
Jake and Chuck will be part of Denver Zoo’s ongoing efforts to protect and save Asian elephants, which have a decreasing global population estimated at fewer than 35,000.
Over Labor Day, a female Cape buffalo named Poncho and a rare, endangered male okapi calf named Romakari were born.
Poncho, who was born to mom Rain, is the second Cape buffalo calf to be born at Denver Zoo this year. Mabel, who is Rain’s granddaughter, arrived in early May. Cape buffalo are found in southern and eastern Africa, and are known for being particularly territorial, protective and sizable, with males weighing as much as 2,000 pounds. Poncho is already spending the majority of her time in the herd’s outdoor habitat and is often easily viewable to visitors.
Romakari was born to mom Almasi. Okapis look a like a cross between a zebra and giraffe with long necks, reddish bodies, black-and-white striped legs, and long, purple prehensile tongues. They are native only to the Ituri Forest of the Democratic Republic of Congo and are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, primarily due to logging, human settlement and hunting.
Romakari is the eighth okapi calf born at Denver Zoo and, like Poncho, the second of his species to be born at the zoo this year.
In August, Tonks, an endangered aye-aye, was born to mom Bellatrix and dad Smeago.
With only 24 residing in seven zoos in the United States and an unknown number in the wild, aye-ayes are among the rarest — and hardest to see — animals in the world. Now three of these elusive nocturnal lemurs, which many consider the strangest primates on earth, call Denver Zoo home.
Earlier this year, the Denver Zoo added a new member to the clan of Sumatran orangutans — a newborn female named Cerah. Born to mom, Nias, and dad, Berani, Cerah arrived on the evening of March 25.
With a worldwide population estimated at only 14,600, Sumatran orangutans are classified as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species.
Michelle Valois says a typical day at the Denver Zoo is a lot of fun and a lot of work.
Valois, a primate zookeeper, has been at the Denver Zoo for 17 years. Her job is to take care of the orangutans and gorillas in their separate exhibits in the Primate Panorama habitat.
The Denver Zoo is home to six critically endangered Sumatran orangutans and five western lowland gorillas. But the zoo is home to many more primates including golden lion tamarins, aye-ayes, ring-tailed lemurs and mandrills.
“In our primate department we have a really big collection,” Valois said. “I think it’s something we are really proud of and excited to have that many different kinds of primates to work with.”
Valois fell in love with primates while working as an intern at the Denver Zoo and helping with the revamp of the primates department and the construction of the ape building.
“For me it was always kids or animals, which I feel like have a lot of similarities,” Valois said. “When I got introduced to primates, I knew I had found where I needed to be. And I’ve stayed here ever since.”
The interaction the zookeepers have with the apes is one of the draws for Valois.
“I love the different personalities they present,” she said. “I love getting to know those different personalities. And they’re not all easy to get along with. Part of what I take very seriously is how I can help each of these species. How I can make the best possible life for them in zoo life.”
Valois said paying attention to the quirks of each animal is very important to their care. Specifically how the gorillas don’t like to get their hair wet. Or how the bachelor pair of young gorillas, Curtis and Charlie, are complete opposite personalities.
Curtis, the older bother, is pretty mellow and likes quieter interaction, she explained, while Charlie is a bit of a wild guy.
“It’s neat to see these two gorillas who are full brothers and grown up together to have totally different personalities,” Valois said. “When I come around the corner, Charlie is often waiting for me to play.
“He likes to throw hay and beat on his chest and have his back scratched.”
While the gorillas are high-energy, social animals. Valois said the orangutans, who live on the other side of the building, are more solitary animals and prefer a low-key environment with the exception of Eirina, an 11-year-old female, who is incredibly playful.
“She loves to swing,” Valois said. “She takes sheets and make hammocks for herself. She ties knots. She has what we interpret as a great sense of humor.”
Both the gorillas and orangutans have indoor/outdoor enclosures and a living space out of the public eye. This, Valois said, is important because while the apes acclimate to the colder Colorado weather, they’re not really made to be in the snow. Still, the big yards where the apes play outdoors are a point of pride for Valois and her team.
A new climbing structure was recently built in the orangutans’ outdoor enclosure to replace trees that are dying.
“We’re really lucky at Denver to have these yards with natural trees and opportunities for the animals to climb, especially for orangutans,” Valois said. “These guys are made to be in trees. In a natural environment they would not come to the ground, not like ours do here. So having options like trees or like our new climbing structure is important to give them new ways to climb, to find food, places to take naps … Though a generous donation we were able to put up the new structure. The keepers and the orangutans really like it.”
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