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Zooperheroes: Reid Park Zoo 

Animals with super powers take the stage

With Memorial Day behind us, summer has officially started in Tucson and the temperatures are ramping up. Humans are not the only ones who prefer the cooler temperatures of the evenings during these hot months, and the animals at Reid Park Zoo are ready to show off their super powers at Summer Safari Nights.

The Summer Safari Night events, free to Zoo members and $10.50 otherwise, each feature a theme with animal encounters to match. June 1 is Superheroes and Superpowers night, so head over to the zoo to learn about some of the amazing abilities exhibited by the animal kingdom.

Staff at Tucson Local Media were lucky enough to get a behind-the-scenes look at some of these superheroes, and can confirm that these critters are more than just cute.

First on the list of featured animals is the adorable Ringtailed Lemur. Native to Madagascar, these guys really like to move it, move it. According to Zookeeper Stephanie Norton, Ringtailed Lemurs' superpower is leaping.

Due to their natural habitat being a mixture of forest and craggy rock spires, these industrious critters leap from tree to rock and back again. Contrary to popular belief, Norton explained, these lemurs actually don't live primarily in the trees, but climb them to escape predators.

Ringtailed Lemurs are critically endangered, put in danger mostly by deforestation and habitat loss. Norton said buying sustainable wood products is the best way to help save these leaping lemurs.

Lemurs at the Reid Park Zoo are trained, like all the animals, with positive-reinforcement target training and are rewarded with their favorite food, bananas.

click to enlarge LOGAN BURTCH-BUUS
  • Logan Burtch-Buus

Another animal rewarded for its superpowers with a slightly less tasty snack is the rat-eating King Vultures. While these giant birds look more like villains, animal care supervisor Alex Zelazo-Kessler ensures visitors they are in fact superheroes as well.

Built for scavenging, these vultures have a bald head to avoid getting their feathers covered in food, and their superpower is their super stomach.

"They are awesome garbage men," Zelazo-Kessler said. "Their stomachs are built to handle all the grosser stuff."

While King Vultures will be opportunistic and kill prey given the chance, they aren't equipped with sharp talons like eagles and hawks. Instead they have an incredibly strong beak for tearing meat from dead prey.

All vultures, including King Vultures, are in danger of lead poisoning due to humans. When humans kill their prey by either shooting or poisoning, those toxins travel up the food chain and right into the mouths of scavengers like vultures and predators like owls and snakes.

click to enlarge LOGAN BURTCH-BUUS
  • Logan Burtch-Buus

Another superhero on the docket for the June 1 Summer Safari Night is a tiny corn snake called Masa. At only six months old, Masa is in training to become an animal ambassador where she will go to work convincing children that snakes are just as important as their cute and cuddly counterparts.

"Snakes are really important to our desert ecosystem," said Zoo Keeper Katie Hutchinson. "We want kids to see them as part of nature and not just as something to be scared of."

The corn snake's superpower is super flexibility, which they use to get into narrow spaces, explore and climb. Snakes mostly eat small rodents, and are in the same danger as many animals that live around humans, toxins.

Hutchinson recommends never using toxins to kill rodents, and if you have a rodent problem, to use snap traps instead so that snakes don't eat poisoned food.

"A slow and sick mouse is an easy meal," Hutchinson explained, but then these toxins start their journey up the food chain.

Another superhero that one might not expect to find at the zoo are goats. On display this Safari Night for their super agility, Nigerian Dwarf Goats and Oberhasli Goats work with zookeepers to perform tasks like weaving between poles and climbing a teeter-totter.

click to enlarge LOGAN BURTCH-BUUS
  • Logan Burtch-Buus

"They are super great jumpers," said Zelazo-Kessler. "They are like Velcro, they just jump up and stick on things."

One of the goats at Reid Park Zoo has a superpower of her own. Ari, an Oberhasli Goat, has never had kids but due to being around youngsters, started producing milk. Zookeepers now milk her twice a week.

Visitors can get up close to all these animal superheroes at Reid park Zoo's Summer Safari Night on June 1. The night will be packed with demonstrations, educational talks, live music and more.

Some of the themes for upcoming Summer Safari Nights to look forward to are Culinary Nights, Moonsoon Madness, Animal Athletes and more. Learn about what makes our local zoo animals so special and what small changes you can make in your everyday life to help save our ecosystems.

The Reid Park Zoo is located at 3400 E. Zoo Court. More information can be found online at reidparkzoo.org or over the phone at 791-3204.

More by Tirion Morris

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