THE HOUSTON ZOO IS IN FULL-ON BABY MODE these days as more than 10 new zoo babies were born or brought to the zoo since the spring. What the zoo’s handlers lack in diaper changes and baby proofing duties, they’re making up for with socialization training, swimming lessons and daily weigh-ins, which can be more difficult when it comes to a 6-foot-tall, 160-pound newborn giraffe.
The zoo sustained next-to-no damage during Hurricane Harvey, save a few inches of rain in the giraffe barn, which is arguably the best place for that, and all of the zoo babies are back to discovering the environments around them. We checked in with the Houston Zoo and their off-the-charts adorable babies to see how they’re growing and what they’re up to next.
Max the baby sea lion
You may have caught the Houston Zoo’s “pup-date” on Max over the summer, but things have certainly changed since then! First of all, Max, born June 26 to mother sea lion Callie, has become an agile swimmer after slowly being introduced to water inch by inch at a time, as new born sea lions are not born with the ability to swim. Now, Max glides through the water with more grace than he has on land. As a male, he is growing more quickly than the 2-year-old female pup TJ, who he has started to spend more time with. He’s currently working on his socialization training with humans to create what sea lion supervisor Sophia Darling describes as a “positive to neutral reaction to people.” With his laid-back personality, he welcomed pets from his trainers (and one lucky Houstonia staff member) and is starting to explore his environment with his mouth. He spends most of his time with Mom still, and the two have developed a screeching burp-like language of sorts, which in the zoo world is called a “pup call.”
Joy the baby elephant
The appropriately named 2-month-old baby female elephant, Joy, can be caught running around from herd member to herd member during the day. “She’s a social butterfly,” says trainer Tracy Moser. In addition to her high social quotient, she’s also ahead of the curve intellectually. Though she is still nursing with mom Shanti, she has already begun trying her hand (or trunk) at grabbing solid foods and will soon be able to take a bottle, which the trainers use to administer medicine. After a solid 22.5-month gestation period, Joy was born weighing 305 pounds. She has since gained an average of three pounds per day, and now clocks in at a dainty 540.
Dash and Dinari the baby cheetahs
Visitors would never be able to tell that 3-month-old baby cheetahs Dash and Dinari are not brothers, nor were they born at the Houston Zoo. Brought into the Houston Zoo’s clinic at 5 and 6 weeks old for breeding reasons, the speedy felines have already claimed their environment as home, teasing the nearby wild dogs, and playfully pouncing on each other around the yard. Similar to their domesticated counter parts, Dash and Dinari enjoy playing with chew toys outside. Unlike their domesticated counterparts, they can already run at about 25 miles per hour. The companions have already developed their chase instinct, which curator of carnivores Kevin Hodge helps enforce with a lure machine. This machine also helps the cheetahs get the exercise and entertainment they need each day. Next up, Hodge and his team plan to work on putting collars on the cubs and then walking them with a leash through the zoo grounds with the two older males!
Fitz and Emma the baby jaguars
Visitors to the Houston Zoo won’t be able to see baby jaguars Fitz and Emma for a few more weeks. Born on July 20, they won’t be released into the exhibit area for another five or six weeks as first-time mama Maya is still keeping them very close. The cubs already weigh as much as cheetahs Dash and Dinari, at about 17 pounds, though due to Jaguar’s heftier build they look quite different. “They are growing round, but they are not growing up yet,” says Hodge.
Mara and Zindzhi the baby giraffes
Though born only two weeks apart, baby giraffes Mara and Zindzhi have completely opposite personalities. Zindzhi, which translates to “warrior” in Swahili, was born with a more anxious character, and put up quite the fight when first being asked to get on the scale for weigh-ins, says trainer Kim Giver. Mara, which means “patches,” couldn’t have cared less. Since being born in April, the two girls have grown 2-to-3 feet in height and have more than doubled in weight. They have been weened away from nursing, and when not sitting safely under their mom’s legs can be found chasing the ostrich’s around their shared enclosure.