The next time you are in the Natural Encounters building, look closely near the ground in the Rainforest exhibit. The two little mammalian vacuum cleaners you’ll see there are recent additions to the Zoo, our Giant Elephant Shrews. “Phoenix” and “Karma” are young brothers, arriving from the Denver Zoo where they were born last year.
Shrews use their remarkably long noses to dig into the mulch and gravel to nab mealworms, crickets, and other parts of their diet. In the wild they forage for a wider range of insects and other invertebrates, so to round out their nutrition our commissary also prepares for them a custom blend of earthworms, cat food, peanut oil, protein powder, and vitamin C.
Though Phoenix and Karma are small, they are full grown adults. There are more than a dozen species of shrews that range in size from tiny pygmy shrews to these “giants.” They are found in parts of East Africa, including coastal forests of Kenya and Tanzania, though due to their natural ability to hide in the undergrowth and tendency to live far from human habitation, they are very rarely seen in the wild. Their habitat is under threat as well, mostly due to agriculture and logging.
This video shows Phoenix nosing around the lower gravel area and munching mealworms in the Rainforest exhibit; Karma was feeling particularly shy that day and stayed well hidden in the upper mulched area. (We made sure he received plenty of mealworms as well that afternoon.)
Wish Phoenix and Karma a happy birthday when you see them! They were born on May 27, 2011.