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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