Lily the skunk was getting a bit round in the middle, and one of our amazing Houston Zoo volunteers came up with an ingenious solution – a giant wheel for her to jog in! Check out her workout:
When Lily was about a year old, keeper Stephanie Turner noted she had begun to put on a bit of weight. In addition to making healthy changes to her diet, she pondered a few ways for her to get more exercise. Volunteer Matthew Griffiths came up with a wild idea that had never been tried; a giant exercise wheel. If hamsters like running in wheels, why not skunks? Matthew had constructed a few items before as part of his volunteer work caring for zoo animals, but nothing this complex, and nobody was sure if the skunk would use it. Everyone was enthusiastic about the possibility, and Matthew spent several weeks designing and building a prototype.
The finished wheel is a combination of metal and 3D-printed plastic. Stephanie and Matthew set it up in Lilly’s room, and her natural curiosity took over – she hopped in to investigate. She grasped almost immediately how the wheel worked, and started regular walks and the occasional jog.
Lily’s enthusiasm for the wheel was so great that she wore out the original hollow shafts supporting the wheel; Matthew quickly replaced them and a few other small parts with sturdier pieces. The revised design has held up for more than six months of skunk workouts.
The best news is that Lily reached a healthy weight by the end of the summer, and has kept the weight off. Matthew is contemplating additions to the wheel such as a mile counter, and he’s pondering what other animals might enjoy a giant wheel to run in – mongoose wheel perhaps?
You won’t see Lily on exhibit in the Children’s Zoo; she’s a handling animal that comes out for the occasional Keeper Talk in the Children’s Zoo or a show at the Butterfly Stage. Her room and remarkable exercise wheel are tucked away in a private spot behind the scenes.