What do Bush Dogs eat? (125th new thing)

August 9, 2011 § 2 Comments

Day One Hundred Twenty-Five found my brother, Brad, and his girlfriend, Rebecca, in town visiting. Last time they came down we had talked about going to Zoo Atlanta where one of my oldest and best friends Erin works. They ended up going to the Aquarium and World of Coca Cola instead, so we saved the zoo trip for this time. While I had been to Zoo Atlanta before, I had never had a personalized, behind-the-scenes tour. Most excitingly, I had never hand-fed a couple of bush dogs.

Unfortunately, we weren’t allowed to take any photos of things that went on behind the scenes at the zoo. So no pictures of cute bush dog pups eating out of my hand. I did, however, manage to snap some images of the other wonderful animals living in Zoo Atlanta. I stupidly left the battery of my digital SLR charging in the kitchen, but fortunately I had my point-and-shoot camera as a back-up. Erin was so full of information and knowledge about both the types of animals we were observing as well as the personality characteristics of the individuals themselves that the trip was rich with information and full of excitement. I’ll share what I remember about a few of the animals we saw.

50+ years and doesn't look a day over 25.

There was once an Aldabra Tortoise at Zoo Atlanta that was born in 1895 named Big Al. He was only on loan, though, and has since moved back to his home in Tennessee.  All of the tortoises at Zoo Atlanta are at least fifty years old. This species of tortoises is the second largest in the world.

Cassowary: Strange Bird.

The Cassowary looks like a giant turkey crossed with a peacock. What looks like plumage on the top of the bird’s head is actually a hard brittle material called a casque, the French word for helmet.

Sake the Bali Mynah (a very endangered bird) has quite the personality. He can mimic the human voice and knows several words. While he did not speak when Erin said hello to him, he did do a bit of a dance and puffed up his feathers. Quite amusing.

Zazu and Gumby are Southern Ground Hornbills. They look like ugly vulturesque birds with big soulful eyes and long enviable eyelashes.  Like Sake, they have quite the personality. These birds recognize Zoo employees’ shirts as they walk by and the birds come to the glass looking for food. Once fed, they parade in front of their exhibit for visitors, showing off their wares.

Shirley with the little ones.

Vern and Shirley are the male and female (respectively) warthogs at Zoo Atlanta. They have a very productive romantic life, producing babies every year. Right now they have three offspring, all named after Dennis the Menace characters. While the young will be sent to other zoos and habitats around the country, Vern and Shirley are permanent Zoo Atlanta residents. Shirley is much more adventurous than her male partner, trying new toys and food before Vern will join in.

The family that swims together...

The Asian Small Claw Otters at the zoo are pretty entertaining to observe. They are a very close-knit family, traveling in a long succession of bodies across the habitat.

Tara and Kelly.

Tara and Kelly are the two African Elephants at Zoo Atlanta. Since they are used to sprawling lands to trek their huge bodies across, the elephant keepers are some of the most active. They have to run across the vast elephant habitat to encourage the giant mammals to exercise with them. And the elephants are intelligent, very quick to learn. As rewarding as daily interaction with the beasts would be, I still don’t think I could manage the mass amounts of speeding back and forth across the pen.


The Giant Pandas are one of the biggest draws at the zoo. In fact, some people are panda crazy, traveling from all over the world to come watch the Asian bears eat and sleep. And poop. While I admit that they are quite cute, in that “you look so cuddly but are more akin to deadly” kind of way, I wasn’t as enamored with the bubs? as much as the crowd around me. When we asked Erin what they did all day (like do they wrestle and play and such), she told us that mostly they sleep and eat. Albeit very cutely.



This is what a pregnant giraffe looks like.

Giraffes are kind of weird animals in my opinion. They are so tall and graceful, with those immensely powerful necks and blackish blue prehensile tongues. When we visited the zoo there was one male, two females (one preeggers), and a young giraffe. Since then, the pregnant female has given birth! The Zoo Atlanta website has an adorable video of the little pup.

I think this is Abu.

My favorite zoo animals are usually in the ape/monkey category. Perhaps because they are fun to watch, swinging from trees and interacting with each other in some sort of social activity. Maybe I have some sort of human vanity and prefer animals who act and look more similar to myself. Psychoanalyze that.Whatever my unconscious reason may be, I love the orangutans and gorillas.

I'll be happy if you use less palm oil!

While we were at the orangutan exhibit (Zoo Atlanta has both Bornean and Sumatran Orangutans) Erin told us how critically endangered the animals are, especially the Sumatran. The way the animals’ numbers are dwindling, in two generations orangutans will be but a myth, or only bred in captivity. Part of this is in part to the increased demand of palm oil, a substance found in many common household items. The rainforest habitat of the orangutans is being systematically destroyed in order to build palm oil plantations. It’s basically genocide of these animals who share 97% of their DNA with humans.

Considering how widespread the use of palm oil is, it would be difficult to completely boycott the product. However, there are small steps everyone can take.


Kuchi and the babe.

Another member of the primate family that I personally grew up associating with Zoo Atlanta is the Gorilla. Willie B was a pivotal figure in encouraging people to attend and support the zoo (much like the Giant Pandas these days). And I could probably sit for an entire afternoon watching Taz, Kuchi, and the adorable little baby gorilla acting like, well, a child.


Nasty looking things, but oddly cute.

Another favorite of mine for no particular reason other than the absurdity of its figure is the Naked Mole Rat. These ugly little blind creatures fascinate me in much the same way the primates do. They are just fun to watch, burrowing in their underground lair. They are like a combination rat and mole ant and hamster in their behavior and organization. But oh so ugly!

Sleepy Kangaroo. I cropped the poop out.

When I had asked Erin if there was any possibility of feeding one of the zoo animals, she was given the choice of a kangaroo or bush dogs. Since the bush dogs are relatively new creatures at Zoo Atlanta, Erin opted for them. I had no problem with that at all (not knowing what a bush dog was).  We did get to see the kangaroos lazing about in the heat and humidity. Apparently, like the warthogs, the kangaroos also have a healthy reproductive life, carrying many joeys in their pouches over the years. They populate like…rabbits kangaroos!


*Courtesy Zoo Atlanta website. My photos were all bush dog butt.

The Bush Dogs were one of the highlights of our Zoo Atlanta trip, mostly because we were able to come face to face, hand to mouth with them. They look like mini bear cubs, kind of crossed with a dog. I would love to have one sit on my lap like Murphy, but up close you really see their big claws and sharp teeth. We fed them through the bars of their indoor cage, little pieces of meat drawn from our gloved fingers into those sharp teeth. It was actually pretty amazing. And you may be wondering what they eat…


Sheena, their zookeeper being all excited about their dinner.

The answer is meatballs and dead mice, cut up into bite-sized morsels. And some horse knee cap for dessert and to use as a giant chew toy.

While you may not be able to share the bush dog feeding experience with me, I would certainly encourage all Georgia residents (and those from out of state) to attend the zoo at least once this year. And enroll your children in the Nightcrawlers program, where you spend the night at the zoo and get your own private group tour. Erin runs it and it is an awesome experience.


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