VIDEO: Zoo’s newest stars are cute, cuddly and wild

Two tiger cubs, one a rare Siberian, and a baby zebra are drawing crowds at Pine Grove Zoo

By Gabby LandsverkStaff Writer

As part of Pine Grove Zoo’s “Baby Fever” this summer, three brand-new, fuzzy faces are now greeting visitors to the zoo, said Director Marnita Van Hoecke.

The most recent resident is a baby zebra, just over 2 weeks old and yet to be named.

Pine Grove Zoo’s newest resident, a 2 week old zebra, has yet to be given a name. The public can make suggestions and vote on an upcoming poll on the zoo’s Facebook page.
Pine Grove Zoo’s newest resident, a 2 week old zebra, has yet to be given a name. The public can make suggestions and vote on an upcoming poll on the zoo’s Facebook page.

The tiny foal, a male, arrived from a wildlife park in Wisconsin late last week, and spent his first days in Little Falls getting used to his new environment before coming out to meet his adoring public.

The zoo plans to hold a naming contest for the zebra on its Facebook page, taking suggestions and votes from the public.

Another newcomer, a tiger cub, earned his name the same way, through an online contest and vote. Now, Pine Grove’s 4 month old tiger has been dubbed Paski, Polish for “Stripes,” after the name suggested by Jenna Brisk proved to be the most popular among the zoo’s fans.

Paski came to Little Falls from an Ohio zoo at just 6 weeks old. Weighing only 19 pounds, zoo staff were able to pick him up and carry him when he first arrived, but he’s since become large enough to need more space to roam, and the staff now interacts with him from a safe distance.

Fortunately for Paski, he has a large, natural-designed outdoor habitat to play in — the catch is that he’ll be sharing it with the other new comer, a 6-month-old white tiger.

The zoo, while initially planning to acquire two tiger cubs, had not expected to get a white tiger, a rare find.

“White tigers are really hard to come by, and there’s not many in zoos anymore,” Van Hoecke said. “We had to take advantage of the opportunity.”

The 6-month-old Siberian female wasn’t just a surprising color, but also unexpectedly large.

This unnamed Siberian tiger is a rare and unexpected addition to Pine Grove Zoo. Although friendly and only 6-month  old, she is a dangerous predator and already large enough that zookeepers be sure to stay outside her cage. White tigers, while smaller than other breeds, can grow to be as large as 450 pounds.
This unnamed Siberian tiger is a rare and unexpected addition to Pine Grove Zoo. Although friendly and only 6-month old, she is a dangerous predator and already large enough that zookeepers be sure to stay outside her cage. White tigers, while smaller than other breeds, can grow to be as large as 450 pounds.

“You don’t just pick her up,” Van Hoecke said of the 105 pound cub.

While she currently outweighs Paski, she’s much more social that her counterpart, Van Hoecke said.

She added that this is unusual as tigers tend to be a highly independent species but, as they’re also very intelligent, personality quirks show up in each unique animal.

“Every species has individuality … (the Siberian tiger) is just ultra-friendly, and was hand-raised, so she’s very comfortable around humans,” Van Hoecke said.

Even so, Van Hoecke reminds the public that tigers and other zoo residents are wild animals.

While still a tiny, adorable youngster, Paski already instinctively tried to jump on the backs of zoo staff, a behavior that a full-grown tiger would use to hunt prey in the wild.

Paski is the Little Falls Zoo’s new tiger; just 4 months old, he’s playful and full of energy, but growing fast. His name means “stripes” in Polish.
Paski is the Little Falls Zoo’s new tiger; just 4 months old, he’s playful and full of energy, but growing fast. His name means “stripes” in Polish.

“Even without being taught (by his mother), the instinct is that strong. It’s quite amazing,” Van Hoecke said.

The unnamed white tiger spends a lot of time rubbing her face against the bars and “chuffing,” the big-cat version of purring, as though she wants to be petted. But for all she might seem like a house cat, it can be hard to tell if she’s being friendly or getting ready to pounce, which is why, once big cats and other large animals reach a certain size, even zoo staff stay behind the bars.

“Their idea of playing and our idea of playing are totally different,” Van Hoecke said. “And it only takes one time for someone to get hurt or lose their life. It’s not worth the gamble.”

Already big enough to keep zookeepers at a safe distance, the white tiger cub eats six pounds of meat a day, is growing fast and as an adult could weigh up to 450 pounds.

The zoo’s last adult male tiger, who died of old age last winter, measured 10 feet long from nose to tail.

Paski, as a male, could easily grow to that size and weigh in at more than 500 pounds

“People think that because they’re in a zoo, they’re tame,” Van Hoecke said. “But that couldn’t be further from the truth. These are wild animals.”

Guests who want to get closer to the zoo’s star attractions can pick up a smaller, snuggly version at the gift shop. Van Hoecke said this year has been the biggest yet for merchandise sales, particularly for toy tigers.

Other milestones this year include the zoo’s visitor map, marked by people from 49 out of 50 states and even other countries.

Van Hoecke hopes to keep the momentum rolling with upcoming Junior Zookeeper classes at Pine Grove’s Education Center, recently redecorated with wall-to-wall wildlife murals by zookeeper and artist Beth Dieser and her husband Matt.

Other exciting news at the zoo includes upcoming baby prairie dogs and peafowl.

No matter what zoo visitors are looking for, Pine Grove has something for everyone, Van Hoecke said, not least of all the baby animals that people just can’t get enough of.

“The public has been phenomenal,” Van Hoecke said. “The babies raise a lot of excitement … It’s been an amazing year.”

Video of the Siberian tiger cub can be found at www.mcrecord.com.

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