Say hello to Canberra’s favourite zoo animal – a 16-year-old male giraffe named Hummer!
Most people don’t win accolades for sticking their tongue out, but when it comes to this carefree giraffe it’s just one of his charms as he engages with children and adults alike and keeps them coming back for more.
Measuring five-and-a-half metres in height, this graceful but slightly zany animal has seen newer additions to the zoo family come and go during his 14 years at the National Zoo & Aquarium in Yarralumla but knows his popularity is secure. He heads up The RiotACT’s list of the top five most popular zoo animals in Canberra
National Zoo & Aquarium operations manager Renee Osterloh was a little reluctant to name the zoo’s most popular animal but couldn’t go past the enduring evidence of Hummer’s popularity with children, adults, zoo members and the guests of Jamala Wildlife Lodge who feed him carrot sticks and get to watch him tuck into his dinner every afternoon.
“While it’s hard to pick a favourite, I think Hummer is definitely the favourite animal here at the National Zoo,” Renee said.
“He’s an animal that the kids can engage with, see him up close every day, and they absolutely love watching him eating and walking around the enclosure.
“He’s very carefree – he definitely does things on his own terms. Therefore he does build up certain connections with certain people. He enjoys coming over and visiting and saying hi to the guests and kids.”
Hummer is a reticulated giraffe, as evidenced by his dark colouration and unique facial features. Being a dominant adult male he has growths of calcium deposits on his face that help give him his distinctive look.
Hummer was born in Monarto Zoo in South Australia and is one of four giraffes at the zoo. According to Renee, giraffes tend to live in captivity for up to 25 years, sleep for only half an hour for every 24 hours, and the blue colourisation in their tongues protects them from the sun.
2. White lions Jake and Mischka
Second on the list of Canberra’s favourite zoo animals are the beautiful nine-year-old white lions, Jake and Mischka.
Born in South Africa, the lions are brother and sister and came to the National Zoo & Aquarium at around nine months of age.
“Jake and Mischka are number two when it comes to our favourites among guests,” said Renee.
“Jake’s regal presence and beauty really does attract the attention from our visitors and kids love to watch Mischka’s playfulness and ball skills when she runs around the enclosure with the soccer balls in Zoocation and school visits.”
Renee said that white lions are extremely rare, with only about 300 white lions in the world and the majority of them living in captivity. On average they live for up to 20 years in captivity and they are actually no different genetically from tawny brown lions except for the recessive gene which gives them their white colour.
Taking up third place on the list of Canberra’s favourite zoo animals is the wacky meerkat.
Meerkats eat fly pupae as a delicacy, are seriously height-deprived and have dark rings around their eyes, but their sheer cuteness and quirkiness never fail to delight.
“Meerkats with their playful antics, constantly foraging within their enclosure, are a popular resident here at the zoo,” said Renee.
“Within the family group, there is always one on sentry duty keeping a watchful eye out for any threats that might come from the sky or on the ground.
“They have amazing vocals, constantly communicating to the family members as they go about their daily routine.”
Renee said there are eight meerkats at the zoo, living in three different groups and ranging from five months to eight years in age.
Meerkats are closely related to the mongoose family and mostly eat fruit, vegetables and insects. They tend to live for 12-14 years in captivity.
4. Miliya, the Siamang baby
Taking out fourth spot in Canberra zoo favourites is the delightfully furry six-month-old Siamang baby, Miliya.
“I think Miliya is a favourite because she is our first ever Siamang baby to be born here at the zoo to new parents Cian and Tunka who also arrived a year earlier,” said Renee.
“It was love at first sight when the new addition to the family arrived for the parents and people and the zoo staff,” she said.
“I think we all love seeing babies at the zoo. The kids are in awe of her ability to cling as mum swings through the enclosure.
“She’s adorably cute with big brown eyes, cute black fur, cute long arms, dainty fingers and her sheer curiosity,” Renee said.
“Miliya is very inquisitive and curious about her surroundings. Regular members of the zoo have loved watching her grow in the past six months and going through those baby milestones.”
Miliya’s parents came to the zoo when Tunka was 11 and Cian was six. Tunka came from the Mogo Zoo and Cian came from New Zealand.
Renee said that Tunka is a fantastic mother and that Miliya is now starting to become more independent.
Siamangs are part of the gibbon family and live for around 30 years in captivity.
5. Otay the Sun Bear
Thirteen-year-old rescue bear, Otay, also makes the top five of Canberra’s favourite zoo animals, with her heart-warming story, love for the water, commitment to motherhood and her strength and intelligence.
“Otay was a rescue bear – she was rescued by Mary Hutton from ‘Free the Bears’ from the Cambodian border,” said Renee.
“She was unfortunately destined for either the pet trade or the restaurant trade.
“She spent the first year or bit of her life in a small cage and when she was rescued she was taken to the Free the Bears sanctuary but didn’t cope with the number of bears within the sanctuary and the decision was made to rehome her into a smaller reserve.”
Otay was then adopted and moved to the National Zoo & Aquarium here in Canberra, where she became part of the animal family. Seven years ago, Otay gave birth to a cub who was named Mary, after Otay’s rescuer. Mary now lives in Taronga Zoo in Sydney.
“It’s the heartfelt story that really makes Otay popular among visitors,” said Renee.
“It’s an amazing story such as Otay feeling comfortable and secure enough to raise a cub after her rough start. She was a brilliant mother.”
Renee said that Otay is particularly popular with the zoo’s animal encounters and tours.
She is part of a breeding pair with 17-year-old Arataki, who originally hails from New Zealand.
“She’s very popular. Sun Bears are quite an intelligent bear,” said Renee.
“You often see them lying on their backs with bottles full of insects falling out onto their chests and the bears picking them off one by one.”
Renee said the Sun Bears have ability, strength and intelligence and are good at problem-solving. Otay has a particular love for the water which visitors enjoy. Renee said that Sun Bears can live for up to 25 years in captivity.
School holiday fun
With school holidays about to start, Renee expects that these five animals will be among the attractions that children will keep visiting the zoo to see. However, she adds that there are many other special animals to visit at the zoo.
“It really is hard to pick favourites – they’ve all got their own individual personalities,” she said.
Renee said there is a range of activities on at the National Zoo & Aquarium during the school holidays.
“During the school holidays we have Keeper Talk activities with the option of feeding our giraffe family group, getting up close with a slithery reptile and listening to informative talks,” Renee said.
“We have our Zoocation kids’ school holiday program running, enabling kids to get a good insight into the daily life or a zookeeper.
“We also have a number of engaging and interactive animal encounters and tours running every single day to book into such as Meet the Cheetah and Zooventure and family tours.
“The zoo is a popular day out during school holidays with the addition of our open range section providing great picnic areas and barbecue facilities.”
For full details of activities on at the zoo please go to the website at: http://nationalzoo.com.au/
Do you particularly like one of these five animals? If so, what do you like about them? Are there any other animals at the National Zoo & Aquarium that are your personal favourites?