Meet and Learn About the Animals of Staten Island Zoo: An Inside Look

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Yesterday, May 19th, the Staten Island Zoo held an online live stream with some of its most beloved animals. For $10 a ticket, audiences could tune in to see and learn about six of the zoo’s current animals – a two-toed sloth, a red-footed tortoise, a carpet python, a blue-tongued skink, a chinchilla, and a tawny frogmouth. They were presented by zookeepers Jessica and Kate. Wearing Staten Island Zoo shirts and animal pattern facemasks, they also answered some of the viewers’ questions throughout the live stream.

First up was Dunkin, a two-toed sloth who has been at the Staten Island Zoo ever since he was a newborn. According to Jessica, his name comes from his owner, an avid enthusiast of breakfast food – and fittingly, Dunkin has a little sister named Pancakes!

Described by Jessica as the Zoo’s ‘long-haired golden retriever’, Dunkin started off the session with some highly educative, yet visually explicit information. Sensing his frustration and low will to cooperate, Jessica taught us that sloths defecate only once a week – and by the looks of his bloated little belly, Dunkin was just 24 hours ahead of a major one!

According to Jessica, when sloths have to go, they do it after climbing down the tree they are in so as to not alert nearby predators of their whereabouts by the feces hitting the ground. That’s some serious info dump.

What’s more, we learned that sloths are related to armadillos and ant-eaters, living up to 15 years in the wild, and 30 in captivity.

The second guest of the night was Shorty, a red-footed tortoise. Currently 15 years old, he had initially been a pet before arriving to the Staten Island Zoo, his owner unfortunately being unable to look to his peculiar needs.

According to Jessica, red-footed tortoises require a specific diet and type of lighting to live a healthy life – and because Shorty’s needs were not met properly, he had started pyramiding, aprocess in whichthe scutes of a tortoise raise up over time and take on a pyramid appearance.

Thanks to Shorty, we learned quite the amount of trivia about tortoises. For instance, the zookeepers mentioned how tortoises push their legs together when feeling threatened.

What’s more, we learned how the only body part they can pull inside their shells completely is their head. And for those even more interested in the anatomy of a tortoise, get this: you can tell their sex by looking at the bottom of their shells! You got a male tortoise on your hands if their plastron (what one would call the belly) goes in, and a female one if it is flat.

Up next was Diamond, a gorgeous carpet python (I did not think I would ever describe a snake as such). At 7 years old, her main form of physical activity is hanging out on a pegboard, constructed specifically for her own, beautiful self.

She was born in no other place than the Staten Island Zoo, with the help of the upstairs keepers. Jessica mentioned how they occasionally visit and speak to her as many grandparents do to their grandkids: “look how big you’re getting”, “I remember when you were a baby”, “please don’t bite my hand off”. Okay, perhaps that last one doesn’t apply.

Her zookeepers taught us that carpet pythons are the most widespread of pythons in Australia, living up to 20 years in the wild, and 30 years in captivity.

Another interesting fact about them is the fact that they only see blobs of heat – and with a so-so hearing, their main way of getting to know the world around them is by smelling. According to Jessica, they do this by flicking their tongues in and out.

What’s more, they have a so-called ‘temperature-dependent sex determination’, meaning that temperatures experienced during embryonic development determine the sex of the offspring.

The fourth guest was Ande, one of the zookeepers’ favorite chinchillas.

Ande’s family also resides in the Staten Island Zoo, with her daughter Santiago and son Pedro living in close proximity to her. According to Jessica, they often cuddle with each other. And if that visual did not make my day, I don’t know what did.

While observing the absolute fluffball that is Ande, zookeepers Jessica and Kate told us how chinchillas have the second densest fur in the world next to sea otters, with up to 60 hairs/follicle. They are found only in the mountains of northern Chile and can live up to 20 years in captivity.

What’s more, with their fur being as dense as it is, the only way of thoroughly cleaning them is with the help of dust baths – which they seemingly enjoy, judging by the reaction of little Ande.

The penultimate guest of the Staten Island Zoo was Liam Hemsworth.

To be more precise, a blue-tongued skink named after Liam Hemsworth. Undoubtedly the star of the show, Liam’s aura oozed with the sense of total serenity, living his best life while the zookeepers showcased and moved him around.

Blue-tongued skinks are the largest member of the skink family, found in Northern and Eastern Australia. Although they have no specific predators, they are threatened by eating poisoned snails and slugs. They live up to 12-18 years in the wild, and 20 years in captivity.

Another interesting piece of trivia about them is the fact that they are oviparous, meaning that their eggs hatch as they are coming out. Knowing Liam, he probably wouldn’t even notice.

The last, but certainly not least star of the live stream was Darwin, a five-year-old tawny frogmouth.

“We call him our grumpy muppet because of his grouchy appearance”, Jessica mentioned.

Addressing the common issue of frogmouths being compared to or confused with owls, Jessica highlighted key differences between the two: while owls have narrow and sharp beaks, frogmouths possess beaks that are wider and gaping. Owls live in tree hollows or other birds’ nests, while frogmouths prefer tree forks.

Much like most of the animals showcased before Darwin, he originates from Australia. Tawny frogmouths are highly popular in their home country; coming in second place in 2019’s Australian Bird of the Year awards.

Answering my own question on what her most special moment with him was, Jessica recalls the time she took Darwin on a family science trip: “He was perched on my hand, continuously looking at something behind me. For the life of me, I couldn’t imagine what he kept looking at. I turned around, and the little guy was looking at himself in the mirror”, she laughs.

Learn more about the Staten Island Zoo and keep your eye out for future virtual meet and greets with its animals here.

Written by: Nagy Béla-Zsolt