Tapir Calf Takes the Plunge!

Posted at 4:44 pm December 21, 2005 by Bridget Mulholland

 tapir calf swimming The newest member of Tiger River, a two-week-old Malayan tapir, has been spending some time out on exhibit with his dam, Rose (see previous post, A Tapir is Born!). They first ventured out to the exhibit on December 8 around noon, when the temperature was above 65 degrees Fahrenheit (18 degrees Celsius), which is a husbandry guideline for baby tapirs. The young calf, named Chukai, was very frisky his first day out on exhibit. He ran around in a couple of circles at first, but then remembered that he needed to stick close to mom, so quickly went back to her side.

The first couple of days we only allowed the two to have access to the lower half of their exhibit. We didn’t give them the upper section which has a large pool. Although tapir calves in the wild are able to swim almost immediately after birth, we wanted to make sure that Chukai was moving around on land really well before giving him the pool. After two days, we thought that he was ready, so we filled the pool only ¾ of the way full, and then put some rubber mats along the edge to give him some traction on the steep slope. There were five keepers there watching that day, and we were all ready to help him out if he got into any trouble in the water. We all held our breath as he followed Rose into the pool, and we were so relieved when he started swimming like a champ! After a little while, though, we could tell he was starting to get tired and was vocalizing to mom. Thankfully, he found his way to the edge, and with a little struggle, pulled himself out of the pool with the help of the rubber mats. Phew!

When I saw that he was shivering after his first swim, I ran down to their bedrooms and called for them to come inside, where I turned up their heater to 76 degrees (24 degrees Celsius). I was feeling like a nervous mom, so I checked on him several times before going home for the day. He was dry and warm and doing just fine. The very next day, he went out on exhibit and did it all over again!

By now, he has figured out all the best places in the pool where he can put his feet down to get a rest, and also the easiest spots to get in and out. He’s a smart little guy! In the next couple of weeks Chukai will probably only be on exhibit between noon and 2 p.m., but as he gets bigger and stronger, he’ll be spending much more time on exhibit.

The naming of our young tapir calf was very difficult for all of us in Tiger River. Three days after his birth, the sire, who all of us knew as “Dad,” passed away suddenly. He was such a wonderful animal with a gentle and loving personality. All of the keepers who had worked with him were devastated. After looking through some of the old records, we found out that “Dad” was actually named Chukai, which is a port city in Malaysia. We all felt that this young calf should be named after his dad.

Bridget Mulholland is a senior mammal keeper in the San Diego Zoo’s Tiger River exhibit.

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13 Responses to “Tapir Calf Takes the Plunge!”

  1. Shirley Sykes says:

    Bridget, I think it’s wonderful that little Chukai is named after his dad, a wonderful tapir I enjoyed watching. You know, I think it’s kind of sad that the Panda Cam attracts so very many responses, while Cams and information for the other exhibits get so few. I have so enjoyed your blogs about the tiger cubs and the new blog about the Childrens’ Zoo raccoons, as well as blogs from the Wild Animal Park. Today my grandson and I were at the Park and saw the darling baby lion cub Koza in the Nursery as well as others of the pride in their exhibit. We also saw the baby Gerenuk (sweet!) and took a ride in the big yellow balloon. There are so many wonderful things to see and so much to learn at both the Zoo and the Park. I love the pandas, but would feel so sad if there were no other keeper blogs to read. I hope more zooholics will try the Keepers’ blog and the Conservation blog as well. Thank you so much for keeping us so well informed!!!

  2. Carole says:

    A beautiful description. How wonderful that this sweet baby was named after his father.

  3. Judy J says:

    Thank You Bridget for telling us about Chukai’s progress and the wonderful picture. I am so sorry to hear of your loss of ” Dad” . You must miss him every day. Losing a ” friend” is never easy. Chukai is blessed to have you and your fellow keepers to watch over him and love him every day. I hope that some of his antics and adventures have helped ease the pain. I am sure that he has his own personality but I hope he has that part of ” Dad” that was loving and gentle. Merry Christmas and Blessings to all of you who care for our treasures-be they large or small-Thank You for keeping them safe and warm and loved. Luv to All, Judy J

  4. Rita Snyder says:

    Bridget, what a great story, but so sorry to hear about Dad’s passing as I know it had to be hard on all of you. What a sweet little fellow Chukai is and hopefully he will have his Dad’s personality. And what a great keeper you are!!

  5. Diana says:

    Chukai sounds to be a wonderful addition to your tapir family. Your story was so engaging–I had to read it several times, even the sad part which described the loss of ” Dad.” You must miss him so much. I appreciate that you are able to share the good news along with the sad news–your words really help to show us how fragile and valuable each life is. Thank you.

  6. Deborah says:

    My condolences on your loss of the tapir father ” Dad.” I am so sorry to hear of his passing. But, as his son’s birth so beautifully illustrates, life goes on. I am glad that part of Dad lives on in the little son who bears his name. Thank you for telling us why Chukai is named as he is. May he grow and prosper in your care, and bring to you much joy.

  7. Bonnie Anderson says:

    Thank you to all the keepers and animal caregivers to contribute to these blogs. Your work is deeply appreciated. One of my first adventures when I moved to San Diego was to join the Zoo. I use my pass frequently just to walk the trails, to sit and watch the animals (I particularly like the flight cages), and to enjoy the visitors. The pandas get the press but we regulars know that each animal is important and that all of you contribute to a better understanding of the diversity of life. Keep writing to us!

  8. Katie Koser says:

    I think the Malayan tapir calf is so adorable! They are my favorite animal besides koalas. I can’t wait to see him this summer when I come to visit.

  9. Bernice says:

    Bridget, thank you for the touching account of little Chukai and his mom and dad. Chukai’s adorable antics, his first swim, your loving concern, and his daddy’s story brought a tear to my eye…happy and sad at the same time! Best healthy wishes to Rose and little Chukai…and best to you and your team, who work so hard to care for these precious animals!

  10. Deborah says:

    I had no idea how darling tapir calves are until I saw the video clip of Chukai walking and swimming. How sweet and beautiful he is! I love the stripes. Thank you for posting the clip. I always look for keepers’ comments and clips here. They help me make it through the day at work.

  11. Susan O says:

    Little Chukai is adorable! I was disappointed that he & his mom were off exhibit when I visited last Saturday, but I hope to see them next month. My condolences over the loss of Dad. I hope there will be many updates as Chukai grows up and perhaps another adult male will be obtained so Chukai will have a brother or sister someday. Thanks for all that you do!

  12. Nudge Chatter says:

    I loved watching little Chukai swim. I love tapirs in general and agree with Shirley. The exhibits like this don’t attract as much attention as the panda, but I love it all the same.

  13. Susan O says:

    When I visited the tapir family last Sat., Rose seemed to be using little Chukai as a pillow. Chukai’s legs still had the striped pattern but his trunk looked like it was turning white like his mom’s. Is that correct? Do you have any new pictures or information? Thanks!