The March of the Flamingos: A look into Flamingo “Dating”

Written by Carrie Mansfield


As we approach the spring season, you may notice our Chilean Flamingos becoming more active than usual. Chilean Flamingo courtship happens long before they even begin to build their nests in the summer time. Around January and February, our flock at the Houston Zoo can be seen head flagging, which is one of the first breeding behaviors they start to display. The flamingos will elongate their necks as much as possible and move their heads side to side, looking a lot like flags blowing in the wind.

In March and April, the flock will begin to do wing displays. Some can be seen standing tall and sticking their wings straight out to their sides. Others can be seen leaning forward, like a bow, and flipping their wings straight up to the sky. Some even do a wing display including one of their legs. They will stretch their leg back and to the side while simultaneously stretching their wing on the same side.

Once it gets closer to May, our flock can be seen marching around the island in their exhibit. This is by far my favorite behavior they do, because the whole flock will do it together. This is the indication that the flock is ready to start breeding and they will soon start to pair off. The females will choose the male that has the most impressive dance moves. Once paired off, you can spot the males closely following their female mate wherever they go.

I know a lot of this may be hard to picture, so here is a video from National Geographic of a flamingo flock marching.

Some of our Conservation Education team have also performed an interpretive dance depicting flamingo breeding behaviors. Enjoy.

 

Take some time on your next visit to the zoo to observe our Chilean Flamingo flock and see if you can spot any of these unique behaviors.

And if you’re looking for environmentally friendly ways to impress your sweetheart this Valentine’s day, here are a few things you can do:

  • Make a stuffed animal out of old clothing. The gift will be one of a kind and a great way to upcycle clothes you aren’t using anymore
  • Give a potted plant instead of a bouquet of flowers. A potted plant can be enjoyed for many years
  • If you take your special someone out for dinner, say no to the straw and bring your own Tupperware for leftovers. This will help prevent more plastic waste from entering our oceans
  • Or the best gift of all: create your own jazzy flamingo dance. Who doesn’t love a good dance partner?!

Thanks for reading and I hope that you will join us and National Geographic in the celebration of the year of the bird!

Meet the Mata Mata!

This is one seriously cool turtle.  It is a monotypic genus, which means that it is the only species in the genus.  They live in the Amazon river system in South America and hang out in warm shallow muddy water with lots of vegetative debris.  The shell and skin are excellent camouflage in this habitat, including how the head (with fringes of extra skin with sensitive nerves), looks like mucka mucka leaves (a common aquatic plant).  The snout is a long thin snorkel like tube that is raised to the surface to breathe.

 

Mata matas either ambush or slowly stalk their prey.  When suitable prey is within reach, the head shoots forward and the floor of the mouth lowers.  Just before the mouth reaches the prey, the  mouth opens, creating a vacuum, and prey and water rush into the mouth (which is called the buccal cavity).  The mouth then shuts, but not quite all the way, the floor of the mouth rises, pushing most of the water out, and the prey is swallowed.  This happens so fast, that you can barely see it.  Check it out!

Guest Blogger: Jessica Jones – 2017 Collegiate Conservation Program Intern

This post was written by Jessica Jones. Jessica is a sophomore at University of Houston and was a Collegiate Conservation Program (CCP) intern during the 2017 summer.  Take a look at Jessica’s experience and head to the CCP website to learn more and to apply for summer 2018!


My experience with the Collegiate Conservation Program allowed me to learn about various career opportunities within the environmental field. I started the internship as a Biology major, but at that time I was still unsure of my career path. The internship exposed me to the many jobs related to conservation and to the idea that everyone involved has an impact. The most memorable experiences I had on- and off- zoo grounds involved interacting with the public. Animal handling sparked conversations with zoo guests on the characteristics of the animals along with how we can improve their situation in the wild. One example was sharing the message of one of the ambassador animals, an American alligator named Dr. Teeth. We educated guests on the importance of alligators as they help control the ecosystem population. Through personal interactions with guests who truly wanted to learn about each animal, I realized my passion was sharing the message with others. Another on-zoo grounds benefit was the opportunity to meet with different departments such as development, marketing, education, horticulture, and many more. My encounter with the marketing team expanded my perspective of a business career as I had always been set on science. I learned that marketing was working hand in hand with helping save animals in the wild and that it is an essential part of educating the public.

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What I had learned on zoo grounds developed as we met with many of the partner organizations off grounds. From invasive species removal to dune restoration, I experienced what it would be like to work hands on with the environment as a career. Early in the internship, we were able to experience the emergence of 10 million Mexican free-tailed bats from Bracken Cave. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen, and it lasted for hours. This internship educated me on the existence of a colony of bats right here in Houston. My fellow interns and I met a young girl around the age of 8 at the Waugh Bat Bridge. Her craving to learn about the bats was inspirational. I want all children and adults to be educated about the importance of the world around us. This 10-week life changing internship helped me investigate my interests and ultimately alter my career path. I have come to believe my passion for conservation may best be pursued through an influential marketing career where I can connect and inspire people of all ages.

Guest Blogger: Kenneth Nalley – 2017 Collegiate Conservation Program Intern

This post written by Kenneth Nalley. Kenneth is a graduate from Tarleton University and was a Collegiate Conservation Program (CCP) intern during the 2017 summer.  Take a look at Kenneth’s experience and head to the CCP website to learn more and to apply for summer 2018!


Summer 2017 will forever hold a special place in my heart. From the moment I heard about the CCP internship with the Houston Zoo I knew it was special, and I knew I wanted to be a part of it. Since I had a friend that had done the internship a summer prior I somewhat knew what to expect. I knew that I would learn about regional and worldwide conservation efforts and the Houston Zoo’s role in those efforts. What I didn’t know was that we would be examining what I now see as the most important part of conservation: the human aspect. Throughout the summer I would be taking a greater look at myself through the eyes of 12 strangers.

This summer consisted of a lot of critical thinking. Where do I fit into this puzzle? What is my role in conservation? It starts with learning more about yourself; which is exactly what we did. We took a strength finders test which told us what our top 5 strengths were and then we each shared our strengths with the group. This was a powerful exercise because it fostered a level of understanding and bonding amongst the group that wasn’t there prior. It allowed us to accept and bond over our differences. Throughout the rest of the summer this bond would grow amongst the group, and this better understanding of each other led to a better understanding of people’s role in conservation.

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My philosophy before CCP was that people were the reason we are in this mess. Our selfishness and greed has destroyed habitats, altered our climate, and devastated wildlife. There were people like me—nature-loving, wildlife enthusiasts—and people like them. Now, thanks to the growth I experienced this past summer—I only see people. I met some of the nicest people from EXXON Mobil, who were so generous with their time and investment in us. I was able to see things from different perspectives; no right or wrong…just different. I learned and now understand that we are all in this together. Conservation is not just people who work in this fields issue, we can’t save the world alone. This effort belongs to us all—and we must be willing to listen to everyone. That’s the biggest truth I took away from this summer, and for that, I will be forever grateful for it has shaped my future in this field.

 

 

 

February’s Featured Members: The Costigan Family

We love our Members. Their incredible support allows us to make a difference to animals both locally and all over the world. This month, we’re spotlighting a family of Zoo Members that deserve recognition. We’re thrilled to introduce you to February’s Featured Members: the Costigan family.


We asked Sorcha Costigan to share a few words about what being a Zoo Member means to her. Here’s what she had to say.

“My husband Quentin and I have been members since fall of last year, when we initially signed up for a small family membership.  We are both animal lovers and advocates, and we come to the zoo several times a year just to admire the critters and pet the goats. 🙂  My sister Rebekah and her husband Ryan moved home to Houston in June of this year, after living in Denver for 7 years.  They came home with my 2 year old nephew Rory and my 4 year old niece Ivy Anne in tow, who were born in Denver and loved the Denver Zoo, so we decided to go ahead and get the big family membership so we can all bring the kiddos to the Houston Zoo whenever we want (and when the weather cooperates!).  We took them for their first trip in September and got the family membership at that time.

We are proud to support the efforts of the zoo, and to teach Rory and Ivy Anne the importance of conservation and animal husbandry, as well as educating them about animals all over the world and how critical they are to OUR survival, as we are to theirs.  The residents at the zoo allow us to show them creatures from all over the globe; mammals birds, reptiles, and fish, and to see them in native environments. Our favorites are the cats – the big cats and the little ones!  Ivy Anne got to give a high five to a sleeping lioness through the viewing window, which was her favorite part of the entire day.  We hope to be able to participate in the program where you get to give the lions some water with a squirt bottle – that was the neatest thing ever!!  My sister and her husband are raising my niece and nephew to be caring and responsible contributing members of society, and the zoo helps us toward that goal.  Plus, we get to pet the goats (That’s my favorite part, and yes, I’m a grown woman of 45 LOLOL!)!”

From all of us here at the Houston Zoo, we want to say thank you to the Costigans and all of our Zoo Members. As a Houston Zoo Member, your support truly makes an impact on the growth of our Zoo and conservation efforts. THANKS!

Meet the SPARK Team

Have you ever seen the SPARK team at Houston Zoo?  This dynamic team is waiting to engage, inform and entertain you every time you walk through the Zoo gates!

SPARK stands for:
Spontaneous interactions
Passionate staff
Awe and inspiring guest reactions
Relationship building
Keeping guests 1st

The team is made up of three amazingly creative individuals who interact with more than 120,000 guests each year.  Bennett Dones, interpretative program supervisor, has been with the team since it was created “before 2000.”  Bennett can be seen weekdays at the Zoo.  He is constantly “roaming” around and his favorite interactions are those spontaneous moments with guests as he walks around the Zoo.  He loves to tell stories and jokes.

Sarah Fern rejoined the team in 2016 after spending a few years in a school environment.  She is here Wednesday through Sunday.  Sarah loves to surprise guests with carousel tickets or telling stories about our amazing elephant herd.

Celina Burgueño joined the team after graduating from college in 2017.  Celina loves performing various programs at the Houston Texan’s Enrichment Zone where she can be seen leading a marching band or introducing guests to our animal athlete ambassadors. She can be seen on Thursday s through Mondays.

Every day, find Sarah, Celina or Bennett presenting some of their favorite animal ambassadors at the Conservation Stage and other locations across the zoo. Will you get to meet Charles the Chuckwalla, a Houston Zoo legend, or take a picture with Ernie, the North American porcupine? Whoever you meet, the SPARK team is sure to teach you all about your newest friend. As you walk through the Children’s Zoo, stop by the Houston Texan’s Enrichment Zone to catch the latest presentation. Daily programming may include a chance to meet some animal athletes, make some noise as you audition to become a member of the Houston Zoo Recycle Band, or even save the Zoo from trash villain Disastra at the Conservation League of Heroes. Any time throughout the day, you can catch the team on one of their daily storytelling walks, in front of a favorite habitat and ready to tell you all about the amazing animals that call Houston Zoo home. Wherever you see them, SPARK is sure to awe and inspire you with spontaneous programming for the whole family.

Mourning the Loss of Our Geriatric Jaguar, Kan Balam

This morning, the Houston Zoo humanely euthanized its male, 20-year-old jaguar, Kan Balam.  Due to the tremendous care provided to him by his keepers and the Houston Zoo veterinary team, Kan Balam lived well beyond his expected lifespan. Jaguars expected lifespan in the wild is between 12-15 years.

The carnivore staff and veterinary team made the decision after his quality of life began to decline. Quality care and continuous advances in veterinary medicine extends animals’ lives longer than ever, with most felines in human care living well beyond previous generations. Because of this, all cats, including domestic house cats and jaguars, often spend a significant phase of their lives as older animals, and are at a higher risk for geriatric complications.

Kan Balam was well known as one of the carnivore department’s most intelligent animals. The great-grandfather knew about 30 different behaviors and found joy in attempting to outsmart his keepers who dedicated their lives to caring for him.

 

“When caring for aging animals, we first do everything in our power to make sure they have a great quality of life,” said Lisa Marie Avendano, vice president of animal operations at the Houston Zoo. “We manage their diet and exercise, as well as their medication if necessary. It is never an easy decision to euthanize an animal, but it is one we make with the animal’s well-being as the top priority. With world-class animal keepers, four incredible veterinarians, and a complete veterinary hospital complex, our animals receive the best care possible, and that includes end-of-life decisions.

Kan Balam was born at a zoological facility in Mexico. His keepers often refer to him as “Kan B” for short. Before coming to the Houston Zoo, he had an altercation with another jaguar and lost part of his front right foot and for many years received laser acupuncture and annual chiropractic adjustments.

Jaguars range covers South and Central America, with some venturing north into Mexico and southwestern US. They are listed as near threatened by International Union of Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and their numbers continue to decline mostly due to habitat loss. The Houston Zoo is protecting jaguars in the wild by providing support to conservation partners in Brazil who work with the Brazilian government on saving the forested homes of these beautiful cats.

Zoo Crew Alumna Reflects on Experiences

Written by Maya Kanani
Five years ago, I first stepped foot into the Brown Education Center at the Houston Zoo. I had visited the zoo as a child, but never been inside that building in particular. Visiting for orientation for Zoo Crew, I knew very few people, and was embarking on a journey unlike anything I had ever tried before. But, I am so glad I did because it led to some of the best experiences of my life.

Zoo Crew is a program which allows teenagers to learn about the inner workings of the zoo. There are numerous avenues down which they can go, including being a camp mentor, theatrical performer, a naturalist who teaches guests about specific animals, or even a junior zookeeper. Each of these paths teaches Zoo Crew members about the zoo, animals, and guest interactions.

I began the program as a Camp Mentor. As a 13 year old, I was generally placed in camps with younger kids, but through my three years of working with Camp Zoofari, I gradually had the opportunity to work with a wide array of age groups and campers. My fourth year, I was selected to be a Junior Zookeeper in Kipp Aquarium. I continued in this position this past, my final, summer. The experiences taught me so much, but in addition to that, were incredibly memorable and unique.

Though I have had many, many unforgettable moments working at the zoo, the one that stands out to me most was from my last day. As I mentioned before, I worked in the aquarium, which houses the giant Pacific octopus. As a part of her enrichment, one of the things the octopus does is paint, a task which involves PVC pipe, lots of paint, and even more shrimp. As a last day gift, the keepers in the aquarium had her paint for me, and that painting, though abstract in subject matter, has so much meaning to me.

There is so much I could discuss in regards to my experiences as a part of Zoo Crew, but more than anything, I am just thankful for all of the opportunities I was given. When I found out that I was one of the recipients of the Zoo Crew scholarship, my first thought was how grateful I was that my hard work and dedication to the program had allowed me this opportunity. Everything I experienced through Zoo Crew, and now accepting this scholarship, has been nothing short of remarkable.

Through Zoo Crew, I learned, not only about conservation of habitats and animals, but also about the people who are so dedicated to protecting them. It truly opened my eyes to the impact people can play on the world when they make the effort to protect the earth, a lesson I will keep with me in all my future endeavors.

-Maya Kanani, 2017 Zoo Crew Scholarship Recipient

 


2017 Zoo Crew Scholarship Recipients

Every year, the Houston Zoo Teen Programs honors several exceptional teens from our Zoo Crew program with a $1,000 scholarship. Recipients are chosen based on their dedication and outstanding performance in the Zoo Crew program. These are teens who have dedicated countless hours of their time to educating our guests, mentoring our campers, and caring for our animals. The scholarships are funded by The Houston Zoo, Don and Diane Kendall, Karen Hinson, Bobbi Samuels, Barbara Goldfield, and generous donations from Houston Zoo Volunteers. This year we awarded five scholarships to five bright, passionate, and motivated teens. Meet the 2017 Zoo Crew scholarship recipients!

Maya Kanani

My name is Maya Kanani and I’m a senior at Bellaire High School this year. I joined Zoo Crew the summer before my eighth grade year, and have done it ever since. I began as a camp counsellor for Camp Zoofari, then transferred to working in Kipp Aquarium, which I have done for the past two years. I have loved everything about my experience as a part of the Zoo Crew team and have learned so much working with the staff there. Throughout my five years, I got to work with so many different people and animals, which opened my mind so much and led me to try new things. In college, I am looking into the liberal arts path, and possibly majoring in journalism. I have been a part of my school newspaper staff for three years, this year as both paper and online editor-in-chief, as well as been a photography student, and written for the Buzz Magazines for four years. I love both writing and photography and hope I can pursue both in college and my life after college.


Remi Pattyn

Hello, my name is Remi Pattyn and I am the first born outside of Europe in my family. I am currently entering my senior year of high school, and I plan on attending UNT or Texas State once I graduate. I’ve always had a passion for animals, and I’ve always been around zoos! As a member of Zoo Crew I have been given opportunities that very few people ever get in their lives, to follow and be a part of an organization and community that they want to spend so much of their time being a part of. Since starting my Zoo Crew career as a teen educator and just finishing this previous summer as a junior herpetology keeper, I have learned so much about myself and what I wanted to do with my future. It was getting to be around the zoo so much and getting to know some of the people that work here that has influenced my decision to get on the path towards becoming a keeper at the Houston Zoo. With the scholarship granted to me by the zoo I plan on studying ecology and/or wildlife biology in college. And with that education and my experience at the zoo I hope to return and get started on that career as a full time keeper at the Houston Zoo.


Julia Moacyr

Animals have always been my driving passion, as from a very young age I knew I had to work with all kinds of animals. The Zoo Crew program has solidified in my mind that after college I want to work at a zoo as a keeper in order to help take care of animals, and educate guests on the importance of conservation and wildlife. My plans are to go to Sam Houston State University and major in animal sciences, with a minor in wildlife management. I hope to intern at the Houston Zoo, while in college, and volunteer to get as much experience under my belt before graduating and applying for a job as a keeper. This program has given me some of the greatest memories I could ever have wished for, and I am very grateful to have been selected for this scholarship.


Emily Ostermaier

My name is Emily Ostermaier and I was honored to be a recipient of the 2017 Zoo Crew Scholarship! I am an art student at my high school and I also surf for fun! I play three instruments: piano, guitar, and clarinet. I have learned a lot while in Zoo Crew, including the need to conserve our environment and resources for the sake of the animals that share this planet with us. I also learned a lot about the care of various types of animals, ranging from the marine life in the aquarium to the primates, while being granted the opportunity to help keepers behind the scenes day-to-day. My experience here was one I will never forget. After 5 years of service, I decided that the best-fit field for me was one involving science. I am interested in pursuing a biological degree in Genetics as an undergraduate at Texas A&M University at College Station and then going onto Medical School to become a physician.


Sydney Han

I am a senior attending the High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. There I love to play the flute, participate in STEM Club, and spend time with my friends. And although I am passionate about music, I plan to major in either Biology or Biochemistry in college (while continuing to play flute on the side). I have volunteered at the zoo for three years as a camp mentor and enjoy interacting with and teaching the kids all about the animals at the zoo. Volunteering has helped me gain a better understanding of habitat loss and the importance of conservation. It has also helped me see a future in working with kids. For the time being, I want to become a pediatrician, but I’m keeping my options open!

 

Points on Pepper

Pepper is a 10-month-old Allen’s swamp monkey, daughter of first-time parents Naku and Calvin, and she is the life of the party in her habitat. At almost any given time of the day, you can find her running, jumping, climbing, swimming, or trying to play with the other animals in her habitat, whether they are monkeys, tortoises, or rabbits.

Like most young animals, she is extremely curious about everything around her. She will chase after birds and rabbits, stalk butterflies, catch bugs, and even try to pounce on bees! Bobbi the tortoise lives in the habitat during the summer, and she wasn’t safe from Pepper either. Pepper would follow Bobbi and try to grab her feet as she walked. And once Pepper became bold enough, she decided to hop onto Bobbi’s shell for a ride, albeit a very slow one. Calvin didn’t approve of this and would watch anxiously until Pepper got off.

Pepper also watches her mom, Calvin, very carefully. A lot of young animals learn how to behave from their parents, and swamp monkeys are no exception. Swamp monkeys sometimes like to wash their food, or rub it on rocks before eating it. They will perform this behavior while playing with enrichment items or rocks or anything else they can find. Calvin did this once when Pepper was only a few months old. Before we knew it, Pepper was trying to copy her mom. She grabbed a stick and rolled it on the ground. Calvin is an expert forager. She will spend hours digging through the mulch and dirt in the habitat, looking for bugs or for forage items that we put in there, like bird seed or currants. Pepper has mastered this behavior and will dig through the dirt with enthusiasm. And when she finds a long earthworm, she will go running around with it.

Pepper is an adorable little monkey, but she is also an important ambassador for her species. Not only is Naku a first-time dad, he was also born in the wild. Fifteen years ago, he was rescued from a market in Africa when he was about two years old. Because he was born in the wild, he has some very important genes, which he has now passed on to Pepper.

January’s Featured Member: Laurie Easter

We love our Members. Their incredible support allows us to make a difference to animals both locally and all over the world. This month, we’re spotlighting a Zoo Member that deserves recognition. We’re thrilled to introduce you to January’s Featured Member: Laurie Easter


We asked the Laurie to share a few words about what being a Zoo Member means to her. Here’s what she had to say.

“I have lived in Houston since 1982 and in the 1990’s, I often took our daughters to the Houston Zoo when they were young.  As they became teenagers and developed their own interests, we stopped going together as much and they went on to graduate from college and start their careers.

Recently, however, my daughter Jessica Easter and her boyfriend Cameron Loucks inspired me to become a member of the Houston Zoo once again.  They participate in many of the Zoo’s events, and also support the Zoo’s efforts to protect endangered species and promote education about animals in the wild.  They introduced me to their favorites-primates, big cats, and elephants, although they appreciate all of the animals at the Zoo.  We also plan to make a trip to the Zoo Lights a new family tradition-it is unlike any other holiday experience.

After many conversations about their experiences with the Zoo and the importance of the Zoo’s mission, I initially joined mainly to support the Zoo financially.  Then I discovered a totally new way to enjoy the Zoo.  While taking a foreign exchange student to the Zoo, I discovered the Houston Methodist 1-mile walking path marked on the map.  I like to walk for exercise and overall health, but the treadmill can get boring; the mall is nice but indoors as well, and the city streets require close attention to traffic and intersections.  What better way to get exercise and enjoy the outdoors than to go to the Zoo?  I soon bought a membership online and arrived at the Zoo when it opened at 9 a.m.  Walking through the gates, I joined the usual early morning crowd of young moms with babies in strollers, grandparents enjoying the morning with their grandkids, and some school groups excitedly beginning their day.  I then followed the walking path marked on the map, and after leaving the main plaza in front of the gates, I quickly found myself alone with all of the wonderful animals starting their morning routines, along with the occasional Zoo employee who always gave me a friendly “hello”.  There I was face to face with a silent jaguar, an inquisitive gorilla, a stoic giraffe, and a baby elephant wagging its ears at me.  It was peaceful, beautiful, and quiet (except for the caws of the birds and occasional growl of a big cat), and I marveled at being able to enjoy and appreciate these residents of the Zoo in the calm, uncrowded morning.  Needless to say, my first morning walk was much more of a stroll to allow taking in all that the Zoo has to offer.

Since then, I’ve picked up the pace, but still make sure to pause and check in with my favorites—the jaguar, the giraffes, and the elephants.  I also have started to vary and lengthen my route, since one mile is no longer enough to enjoy everything I want to experience.  And as the fall weather arrives, I won’t be alone in my walks-after hearing me describe how much fun I have every morning, my husband plans to join me.  In addition, I’ve added the Zoo to my list of places I must take out of town family and friends to visit, and everyone has loved to experience it.

Medical experts say that almost everyone can benefit from a brisk walk—it’s good for your heart, bones, muscles, and most importantly, your sense of well-being.  I urge everyone to get a Houston Zoo membership, and enjoy the benefits of walking through the lush landscaped grounds.   It costs a lot less than a gym membership, and you’ll not only feel better physically, but you will support the Zoo’s mission to preserve and protect animals and their habitats, and also learn a lot about the creatures with whom we share this planet.”

From all of us here at the Houston Zoo, we want to say thank you to Laurie and all of our Zoo Members. As a Houston Zoo Member, your support truly makes an impact on the growth of our Zoo and conservation efforts. THANKS!

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We’re live for Froguary! Hop over to the Zoo this month to learn about frogs and more. Plus, join us on Saturday as we Leap Into Action for Frogs. ... See MoreSee Less

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Chris is da bomb.com

HOW MANY FROG FROM SOUTH AMERICA ARE POISONOUS

Need to share with my sister & cousin.

Need to share with Grands

I was waiting for it to jump on him 😱

Hi this is cool.

Wish we were back. 🦓

Thanks for sharing this

It's very interesting....cool

Cool

How old is he?

Very interesting.

So cool

So interesting

Interesting

Jennifer

Tisha Kay Gardner

So neat!

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Coool

So interesting

Very cool

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