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Chambers at Large in Dublin Zoo (2)

Updated: Jan 2, 2022

I am an avid fan of The Zoo, a programme aired on RTE updating viewers as to what is happening not only in Dublin Zoo, but around the world. Notices inform visitors of the work that is ongoing and there is always something new to learn.

Take the white rhinos, for example, they are not white, but grey. The misnomer originated from the Afrikaans word for ‘wide’ referring to their wide, flat mouths. The white rhino, formidable beasts, share the African savannah with zebras, giraffes, ostrich and antelope. Most were feeding whilst enjoying the winter sunshine.

Thanks to it being the tallest of all the animals, the giraffe is a great look-out for predators. However it spends most of the day eating, which begs the question – how do they remain so slim? Is it their vegan diet or the fact that its tongue is so long it can clean its own ears?

Naturally enough the wild cats are well away from the savannah and Dublin Zoo is home to a spectacular Amur tiger, who was most obliging when it came to being photographed. It cleaned its face, washed its paws and stretched before falling asleep. Its devotion to hygiene (and distancing) is a lesson to us all during this pandemic.

The Amur tiger is the largest of all tigers and has adapted to living in temperatures of below minus 40 degrees centigrade thanks to having 3000 hairs on every square centimetre of its body. No wonder it seemed to be relishing the balmy November weather.

Unfortunately there are only about 500 tigers surviving in the wilds of China and Russia and their major threat is man. I can foresee a time when the only time these animals exist will be in zoos like the one in Dublin and I have to praise Dublin Zoo for its worthwhile conservation work worldwide, especially with the European zoo breeding programme.

Asian lions are slimmer and lighter than their African cousins and are the rarest lions on Earth. The lion at Dublin zoo was looking spectacular, quite content in surveying its domain. From previous visits I know the keepers go out of their way to ensure the cats are kept busy, seeking out food and using their senses. However, like the tiger, lions can laze all day with the best of us.

The most difficult cat to spot in the zoo is the snow leopard, but on this particular morning one of the two was on the prowl and I only managed a shot of its colourful rear. Unlike the Amur Tiger it wasn’t keen on being photographed! About 5000 snow leopards remain in the wild and the population is shrinking. Dublin Zoo gives €3,500 a year for snow leopard conservation projects which include ecological studies in the wild and conservation education.

Not only are animals the focus of Dublin Zoo. Visitors are encouraged to learn about the flora that decorates the zoo and grows around the central lake. Bamboo is the dominant plant in the rainforests and can grow 25 centimetres a day. Even in Dublin it reaches its full height in a three month growth spurt, which leaves me wondering if I should plant a row or two on my homestead.

What does grow in my area are conifers, the dominant tree in boreal forests and 5000 year old bristlecone pine is one of the oldest plants on earth.

From trees I move to birds and there are many domestic fowl gracing the lake. However, Dublin Zoo is the home to a flamboyance of Chilean flamingos, the population of which has halved since 1970 due to egg harvesting, drainage of wetland habitats, mining and hunting. Flamingos eat by filtering their food through comblike structures lining their bill. They can filter up to one tenth of their body weight in food everyday. To keep them in the pink the birds are fed shrimp and plankton, otherwise they fade to white.

Penguins seem to hold a fascination for many visitors and there are many words to describe a group of penguins. A group in water is called a raft, whereas on land a group can be a waddle, a rookery, a colony or a huddle. I favour the latter and the Dublin Zoo huddle seemed to be enjoying themselves preening, swimming and eating.

Near the penguins were the California sea lions whose capability to swim always amazes me. Able to deep dive and stay under water for ten to twenty minutes, their sleek bodies and powerful flippers cut through the water at high speed. I swear as I was watching them they were showing off their skills as was the hippopotamus, who can also last for minutes at a time under the water shocking visitors as it suddenly appearing from the depths of the water in which he was hiding.

With its huge jaws the hippo is omnivorous, but seemingly only scavenges for meat during times of scarcity. Hunting requires an expenditure of energy, which the hippo like to avoid. Far easier to eat vegetation growing near the waters.

In my next blog I will be looking at the multitude of monkeys who live at Dublin Zoo, not the monkeys who visit daily or, like myself, watch The Zoo on TV. Don’t forget to watch the next series and read my third blog in the new year, when I will certainly be visiting this wonderful Dublin attraction again.

Meanwhile, thanks to all of you who read my blog. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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