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Keeper Stories – Thursday, May 11

Lions, tigers, and bears, oh yeah! My name is Michelle Elliott, and I have recently moved from Outback Station to being a Swing Keeper in the Mammal Department. I have been fully trained in Outback Station and Hoofstock for a few years, but this April I started learning the carnivore routines, including, you guessed it, African lions, Sumatran tigers and sun bears!

One of the most exciting parts of being a swing keeper is getting to work with big cats again, which have always been my favorite animals. The first big cats I’m learning to care for at the Zoo are the African lions. We have three males, all from the same litter, who are three and a half years old. Despite growing up together and having exactly the same life experiences, these boys could not be any more different! It has been really fun getting to know their personalities. Hondo is the most food-oriented and the quickest eater, while Hatari gets distracted by toys very easily. Azizi is the blondest, both in color and in personality (I’m blonde, so don’t worry, I can say that!).

Since we’ve had some rainy days in the past few weeks, there has been just enough mud for the lions to leave a few good pugmarks around their exhibit. Pugmarks are what we call the lions’ footprints, or tracks. Researchers use pugmarks in the field to determine what species are in the area they are studying. They can also learn a lot about the individual animals from their pugmarks, including their approximate age, sex, and size. There are specific methods for measuring pugmarks that let researchers track the individuals they are studying and tell the difference between them.

As you walk around your backyard or in a nature center, you may see some native animal tracks! Atlanta and the metro area are home to many species that leave distinct tracks, including rabbits, geese, deer, foxes, coyotes, raccoons and squirrels. There are a lot of great charts online that can help you work as a family to ID the tracks you find. Zoo Atlanta also has some pugmarks hidden around the Zoo. The next time you visit, see how many different animal tracks you can find in our pathways, and where they lead!
Michelle Elliott
Swing Keeper, Mammals

Connect With Your Wild Side #onlyzooatl