Flashy Fauna: Reid Park Zoo shows off ‘Art in the Animal Kingdom’

Jeff Gardner, Tucson Weekly
Reid Park Zoo’s latest summer safari nights celebrates the art found on giraffes, zebras, birds and more.

The Reid Park Zoo is continuing their Summer Safari Nights program series by celebrating the art found within the animal kingdom, both in color and shape. And while the obvious selection of colorful birds will be featured, so will animals like zebras, giraffes and more.

Summer Safari Nights occur every Saturday evening through August, each with a different theme, and allow guests to enjoy cooler temperatures plus some unique animal activities and recreation.

The upcoming Art in the Animal Kingdom safari night on Saturday, June 26, will have both of the zoo’s aviaries available, where guests can see a variety of colorful birds. These include birds so colorful it’s made it into their names, such as the scarlet ibis and saffron finch. There are also the pink and white spoonbill and the blue and grey boat-billed heron. All of these birds are colored due to the natural hues of their feathers, or their diet. However, the Reid Park Zoo’s aviary also includes king vultures, which have necks with skin colored like mangos and bright icy eyes.

According to Sue Tygielski, director of zoo operations, their colorful birds are such an attraction that the zoo commonly has visitors sit in the aviary to sketch animals.

“For our aviary, the general conservation message is habitat conservation,” Tygielski said. “There are species where people would take their feathers or their eggs. So it’s mainly about not disturbing their nests, and leaving enough habitat to let them do what they need to do.”

The Reid Park Zoo also features several colorful and striking animals from the African savannah, which luckily means they’re used to the kind of heat Tucson has experienced in recent weeks.

Their Grevy’s zebras have thinner stripes as compared to their plains counterparts, which run off their bodies and up their manes. Although scientists aren’t positive why zebras have stripes, theories range from regulating body temperature to confusing predators to keeping away biting flies.

Sharing the same enclosure are the ostriches, the males with black feathers and the females with grey. Although—let’s be honest—they’re pretty ridiculous looking animals, they weigh 200 pounds and their massive dinosaur-like feet can kill even a lion with a kick.

“Despite having the largest egg of any bird, they still have the smallest egg compared to their body size. That just shows how big ostriches are,” said Adam Ramsey, animal care manager.

The Summer Safari Night will also show off the zoo’s lions, the males of which are known for their massive manes. The zoo’s lions receive multiple exams and training sessions per day where zookeepers check in on their bodies and behavior.

“Behavior is a really important indicator for how our animals are doing, so the keepers have to be really cued into how the animals are behaving and really small changes,” said Rebecca Edwards, animal care supervisor. “With the cats, we have to look closely at the positions of their ears and shapes of their eyes because that can indicate if something is going on. If they’re not feeling well, their ears might be generally lowered. Even the tiniest changes can indicate something might be going on.”

The lions include a mother-daughter pair with their own personalities. Kaya, the mother, is more active whereas Nayo, the daughter, is more inquisitive.

“My favorite thing about training is seeing the lions’ progression. The behaviors that we’re teaching them, like body presentation, start out as something small and then we shape it into what we want it to be,” said lion keeper Laura McHugh. “For example, we work with an ear presentation behavior so we can apply topical cream to their ears because the flies can be pretty bad. At first you might think ‘How can I apply this on a lion’s ear? It’s seemingly impossible.’ You might have safety concerns, but then you shape their behavior so the lion will press her ear up against the fence and allow you to apply it. It’s really cool to see it move from an idea to a completed behavior.”

Other animals at the Art in the Animal Kingdom safari night poison dart frogs, giraffes and jaguars. The evening will include live music from local folk musician Leila Lopez, food and drink specials, carousel rides, and more.


Reid Park Zoo Summer Safari Nights

Art In The Animal Kingdom

Saturday, June 26

5:30 to 7 p.m. or 7 to 8:30 p.m.

$10.50 for adults, $6.50 for kids



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