Elderly Animals at the Houston Zoo: of Sloths and Mole-rats

You’ve probably been hearing a lot of news lately about the babies being born at the Zoo – we’re expecting a baby elephant any day now, and we’ve just helped welcome into the world a number of amazing arrivals, including a De Brazza’s guenon, sifaka, and quite the bevy of flamingo chicks.

One of the newest additions to the Zoo, a baby De Brazza's guenon!
One of the newest additions to the Zoo, a baby De Brazza’s guenon!

What doesn’t make the news, but is equally as impressive, is the longevity of many of our animals at the Zoo. The animal keepers and veterinary staff work hard every single day to give each animal the best care, nutrition, and enrichment possible so that they live long, healthy, happy lives. As a result, we have quite a few “elderly” animals! In this series, we’ll profile several that are particularly near and dear to our hearts.

Succotash, a Hoffman’s two-toed sloth, lives in the Rainforest habitat in the Carruth Natural Encounters Building along with several species of monkeys and birds. She’s around 38 years old – very old for a sloth! In a zoo setting, their lifespan is about 30 years. Her exact age is unknown, since she was caught in the wild and rescued from a private owner in 1975. She came to us in 1986 from the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, and she’s been here ever since.

Succotash strikes a pose in the rainforest habitat of the Natural Encounters building
Succotash strikes a pose in the rainforest habitat of the Natural Encounters building

As an elderly animal, keepers carefully monitor her health and well-being daily. Her food consumption and bowel movements are tracked and recorded every day. Keepers can usually determine if something’s ailing her based on the records we keep or by the physical activity she exerts throughout the day. If keepers do notice abnormal behavior, we notify our vet staff so that she can be examined and we can obtain urine or fecal samples for diagnosis. Right now, Succotash is doing very well.

Guests can oftentimes see her most active in the morning when she gets her breakfast or when we turn on our waterfall in her habitat. She will oftentimes go toward the waterfall to mist herself. Otherwise she can be seen peacefully sleeping while her diverse array of roommates scamper and play around her.

Another animal in Natural Encounters that’s quite a bit smaller (but no less elderly than Succotash) is Livingston, the Damara mole-rat. You can see Livingston and his mole-rat friends in the upper level of our subterranean habitat.

 

Livingston, the Damara mole-rat
Livingston, the Damara mole-rat

Damara mole-rats are one of two mammal species who are eusocial – they live in colonies with many individual members, but the colony behaves as a single organism. The other eusocial species in Natural Encounters is the naked mole-rat. Like ants and bees, they have a queen who reproduces, workers who gather food, and soldiers who defend the colony against predators, like snakes.

Even though the Damara mole-rats all look similar, with mostly grey fur, we are able to identify them by the unique white markings on top of their heads. You can identify Livingston because he has a completely white face and a white spot halfway down his back.

Livingston was part of the small, founding group of Damara mole-rats that came to the Zoo around 10 years ago. His actual age is unknown, but he is believed to be at least 12 years old. Their lifespan is 10-15 years.

Due to his age, Livingston has developed arthritis in his back and hind legs, which affects his movement, but doesn’t cause pain. Each day, keepers give Livingston a supplement to support joint health, similar to glucosamine. He receives regular checkups, which show that the arthritis has not worsened in the two years since he has started this supplement. His weight is also monitored closely to be sure he is eating well.

Livingston is a soldier in the colony and does not let his age stop him from doing his job! He is still regularly seen by keepers patrolling the tunnels and holding an active role in the colony.

Stay tuned for the next blog in our series about elderly animals – next time, we’re featuring our jaguars, Patty the Andean bear, and our amazing grizzlies!

Thanks to Priscilla Farley and Kamryn Suttinger in the Natural Encounters Department for the fantastic information on Succotash and Livingston!



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The rings are in! Shasta stands watch to guard rings for students at University of Houston. ... See MoreSee Less

2 days ago

The rings are in! Shasta stands watch to guard rings for students at University of Houston.

Kelly Trainer Policky, Amy Craft and 3300 others like this

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Beth BanksOk...I am old enough to remember when Shasta was alive and well, strolling around campus! Needless to say, she was beautiful to see each morning!

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David RaffettoThis really is a cool tradition. Thanks, Houston Zoo!

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Patty PeErik I want my ring in there soon 😫

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Amanda FloresWish I was there to witness it

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Stacey SandersOklahoma gonna take those rings come week 1!!!

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Eliseoo HdzThis is dumb but oh well

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Ryan AvCheryl Love Avina we need to go see Shasta!

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Jessica FernandezI wish they started this in Fall 2010 not summer 2011.

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Kandi Blalock ClarkKimberly Brown, I thought this was pretty cool. They have a sign all about UH at the zoo.

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Denise NelsonLove these college tradition. Got my MEd there

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Nallely ContrerasLariza Contreras soon your ring will be there :)

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Julie CooperCan someone explain about the rings for us English folk please xx

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Celeste MarquezOur rings are supposed to be in there 😭😭 Jesus Aguilar we are such procrastinators.

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Amanda BlankeHow cool is this Mary?! Love it!!

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Shannon RaffettoGo Coogs!!

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Leo N CandiceWill she be protecting them all weekend so that we can go and see

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Kloe WoosleyRyan Woosley you're lucky Beaumont is closer :p I would die to be a cougar.

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Donna S. GuerreroWhat a beautiful cat !! ❤️

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Beatriz Medina-LaresTanya Torres is your ring in here???

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Jaime FrancoAnybody got pics of this?

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Davi Case GarzaEsther Garza check out Shasta!

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Austin VaughnYay Shasta!

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Ronnie LeeI totally want to pet shasta. :o

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Jennifer DailyEva, check it out!

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Reed Roberson#GoCoogs!

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Our pair of elderly male African painted dogs were excited to meet their new pack-mates, three female dogs that recently moved to Houston from a zoo in the UK! Check out the video and learn more about the new group here: www.houstonzoo.org/endangered-wild-dogs-form-new-pack/ ... See MoreSee Less

3 days ago

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Cathryn GaborLet's protect this spectacular endangered species! Fundraiser on May 3 in Houston benefiting Painted Dog Conservation. Thank you Houston Zoo!

3 days ago   ·  4

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Emilee MayberryI've never even seen them moving! They are always sleeping in the same spot. Maybe these new girls will revitalize the pack :)

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Lilian CorriganIt's cool to see them so active. Whenever we visit the zoo they are usually just laying around.

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Linda TidswellSure hope they weren't moved here because they mate then kill their mates😂

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Michelle MungerThey were sleeping when I was there.

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Patricia TamézBlaze and Mikita have new friends!

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Austin VaughnAww! Look at those precious puppies!

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De'jon BaptisteI love dogs

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Megan ConnerHunter Wayne Mattocks I figured out what Harper is mixed with

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Ashley NicholeJamie these are awesome

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Michelle Wheatley PajakRobin Roxburgh Kellogg 😄😄yay!! Makes me happy!

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Lori Miller SouderGorgeous animals!!!

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Diana KimmelThat's awesome!

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Annita Smith McGinnesRhianna Rhee Hedrick, did you see this?

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