The San Diego Zoo is setting the stage for a fantastic new venue, opening in summer 2017: Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks!
BY Karen Worley
PHOTOGRAPHY BY KEN BOHN|SDZG AND THOMAS MARENT|MINDEN PICTURES
Africa Rocks spotlights the amazing biodiversity found on the African continent, with unusual and striking species ready for their rise to fame. Ushering you into each new area are rock formations unique to their regions—from the craggy granite outcroppings of the kopje, to the jagged, layered tsingy rocks of Madagascar, to the smooth, wave-worn boulders of the South Africa coastline. Plus, a key tree or plant has a featured solo in each habitat. Of course, the amazing animals will have you starstruck: fans of fossas, primates, songbirds, leopards, penguins, and more will have their favorites to cheer for.
This expansive, multispecies tribute to African wildlife is the Zoo’s most ambitious exhibit project to date, transforming the steep slopes of what was formerly Dog & Cat Canyon into a gently winding pathway through six different types of African habitats. We want to thank our friends who made this possible, including lead donors Conrad Prebys, Ernest Rady, and Dan and Vi McKinney, along with thousands of others who supported this much-anticipated home for so many unique animals. The anticipation is building as we prepare for the opening event next summer—here’s a sneak peek at just a few of the Africa Rocks headliners!
Living in a kopje means living on the rocks—and there are several species that are masters at it. One is the klipspringer, an Afrikaans word meaning “rock jumper,” which reflects this tiny antelope’s big talent. Less than 25 pounds and 2 feet tall at the shoulder, klipspringers have unusual hooves that look like they are standing on tiptoe. The hoof’s structure gives it a slight suction-cup effect, helping these spry animals leap from boulder to boulder and nimbly manage rocky surfaces that look impossible to climb. It doesn’t take them long to reach the top!
Another animal with special skills for living in a rock pile is the rock hyrax. This squat, furry animal is a master climber. It has bare, padded, sweaty feet that act like suction cups to keep a grip on rocks and cliffs. Hyraxes live among the nooks, crannies, dens, and burrows of the rock formations, blending in with the boulders as protection from predators. Strangely, their closest relative is the elephant, revealed by their tiny tusk-like teeth—but no trunk, so a trumpet isn’t part of their gig.
Big Hair Bands
Two bands of primates that have not been seen at the Zoo for many years will call Africa Rocks home: hamadryas baboons (pictured above) and geladas. Found in dry, rocky areas of the Horn of Africa, hamadryas baboons spend the day foraging on a savanna plateau, and then scale up a sheer cliff face to spend the night in the safety of craggy ledges. Rocking a thick coat of long hair, including a “cape” (mane and mantle), the males are larger than females and rather showy to get attention.
Speaking of showing off, the gelada has a red, hourglass-shaped patch of skin on the chest and neck, an eye-catching adornment that sets this monkey apart from other primates. On a male, color intensity equals status—the one with the reddest patch usually gets the girls. The males also sport a wild mane of hair to complete their look. Something else that makes geladas unique is that they are the only grazing primate; they are adapted for the windswept plateaus of the Ethiopian Highlands, and their diet is made up mostly of grass!
You might know the ratel as the honey badger: a smart, strong, and skilled forager that rips into beehives. But not for the honey—ratels are really after the bee larvae, and they use their impressive, long claws to dig and break open the hive for a feast. They are impervious to bee stings, since they have coarse fur and tough skin. Their skin is also loose, so stings don’t easily reach the muscles. Because it takes a very determined predator to harm a ratel, they are known for their fierce, confident temperament. Ratels definitely have attitude!
On the African island of Madagascar, the fossa is the top predator. It looks a bit like a dog, but it has claws and teeth like a cat; yet it is most closely related to the mongoose. Day and night, fossas are kings of the Madagascar scene, preying on lemurs, wild pigs, reptiles, rodents, and birds. They are usually loners, but they have cool moves—they are famous for darting and climbing swiftly and silently through the forest.
Beach Boys (and Girls)
When you think penguin, you might think ice, but there are penguin species found throughout the Southern Hemisphere. African penguins prefer the beach scene, living along the shore of South Africa. In their warm climate, they show a little skin, with bare patches around the eyes and on the legs to release heat. After all, when you’re hot, you’re hot.
Because they can’t fly, penguins jet from place to place by swimming, and they are shaped perfectly to move swiftly through the water to catch fish. An African penguin can swim at nearly eight miles per hour and stay underwater for up to four minutes. On land, African penguins may look like they’re stiffly plodding the red carpet in their tie and tails—but get them in the pool, and it’s party time!
They Will Rock You
Conrad Prebys Africa Rocks has a star-studded lineup that will make it the hottest ticket in town. Mark your calendar for summer 2017 to see these and many more representatives of Africa’s amazing biodiversity. And to help you do that, click here to download your 2017 calendar issue of ZOONOOZ, featuring the animals of Africa Rocks!