From Orangutans to Chuckwallas: Elderly Animals at the Houston Zoo

The Houston Zoo has seen quite a number of animal births lately, and as a result there are quite a few adorable baby animals! Baby elephant Duncan, baby giraffe Baridi, and even a baby whitespotted bamboo shark have been born recently. As we mentioned in our last blog, babies are cute – but there are some great stories to tell about animals that are older too!

There are three elderly primates in particular that have very special stories. Cheyenne, a 41-year female orangutan, can’t have children, but she has taken on the role of adoptive mother for four – count them four – orangutan kids. Aurora, her most recent adopted baby, was given to Cheyenne after her mother refused to care for her. Cheyenne treats Aurora just like she was her own child. Cheyenne has an incredible degree of patience as a mother, but you could say that those four adoptive kids account for most of the wrinkles on her face!

Cheyenne and adopted baby Aurora spend some time together outside
Cheyenne and adopted baby Aurora spend some time together outside

Susie, the agile gibbon, has a much different story than Cheyenne, although she is also 41. Susie is a rescued animal – she spent her first few years of life as a pet (as you probably already know, this is NOT a good idea. Susie lives by herself because she doesn’t interact well with others of her species, so she alternates with our siamang family to enjoy time outside.

Susie may be elderly, but she still enjoys swinging on those ropes!
Susie may be elderly, but she still enjoys swinging on those ropes!

There are also animals that live at the Zoo but aren’t visible to guests. This includes Alison, who lives behind the scenes in a place called MYRA: the Monkey Year Round Retirement Area. She is a black-and-white ruffed lemur, and she is 30 years old. She has outlived two mates, and she certainly deserves a little quiet time in her twilight years! Alison also receives acupuncture treatments to help relieve her arthritis from a visiting veterinarian.

Alison, the black-and-white ruffed lemur - she brings getting older to the most elegant level!
Alison, the black-and-white ruffed lemur – she brings getting older to the most elegant level!

Another incredible animal that has already enjoyed quite a long life is Bill, our male swift fox. He will be a whopping 16 years old next month! Swift foxes typically live up to 12 years old in a zoo setting and only 3-6 years in the wild, so this guy is clearly wise beyond his years. Swift foxes are native to the central US, from Montana all the way through Texas. Their range is now very narrow and fragmented, though, because of habitat loss. Bill is a very smart fox, and he enjoys his training sessions with his keepers and hanging out with his younger mate, Sookie. You can find him in the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo.

You can find Bill, the swift fox, in the desert area of the John P. McGovern Children's Zoo
You can find Bill, the swift fox, in the desert area of the John P. McGovern Children’s Zoo

Last but certainly not least, Charles the San Esteban chuckwalla is a true zoo ambassador. He has delighted hundreds (and probably thousands) of children, as he goes to schools and out in the Zoo to help keepers teach kids about animals. Born in 1987, his laid back personality has helped him win the hearts of many staff, volunteers and guests. The San Esteban chuckwalla is the largest member of the chuckwalla family, and it is also the most endangered, found only on San Esteban Island.

Charles, the San Esteban Island chuckwalla, has been delighting guests and helping kids learn since the 80's!
Charles, the San Esteban Island chuckwalla, has been delighting guests and helping kids learn since the 80’s!

Thanks to Lynn Killam from the Primates Department and Kevin Hodge from the Children’s Zoo for helping to tell the stories of these amazing animals!



2 thoughts on “From Orangutans to Chuckwallas: Elderly Animals at the Houston Zoo

  1. Thanks for sharing the stories about the elderly ambassadors and the new borns at the Zoo! I loved hearing about the older animals, especially since the public doesn’t get to see some of them. Please continue to share, as it educates us all on the importance of conserving, respecting, and loving the animals! Especially for future generations!

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