Beetles are breeding, the takin's on track and the panda's still painting at the Cincinnati Zoo

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Red (panda) alert: The beetles are back!
Red (panda) alert: The beetles are back!
Red (panda) alert: The beetles are back!
Red (panda) alert: The beetles are back!
Red (panda) alert: The beetles are back!
Red (panda) alert: The beetles are back!
Red (panda) alert: The beetles are back!
Posted at 6:00 AM, Nov 15, 2016
and last updated 2016-11-15 06:54:07-05

CINCINNATI -- Although there's always something new happening at the Cincinnati Zoo, it's still great to keep tabs on old friends and check in now and then.

So here are a few updates on previous stories.

Head insect keeper Mandy Pritchard proudly shows off the second generation of the American Burying Beetle.

Beetles are back!

During the last week of May, the Cincinnati Zoo again teamed up with the Ohio Division of Wildlife in a joint effort to reintroduce the American Burying Beetle to the region at Fernald Nature Preserve. In total, volunteers buried hundreds of mating pairs as well as some single ladies with hopes of seeing them reproduce and repopulate.

But even with the ideal conditions, including their own post-mortem snack, Cincinnati Zoo's head insect keeper Mandy Pritchard explained that when she returned to check on pitfall trappings to locate adults from the May release, none were to be found. She said they're learning that is timing is everything.

"We talked about changing the time of release, but it was too late for the May group we had already," she said. "But we thought we would hurry up and bring out a second group to release later in the year, so July we put 25 beetles out there. It was a pretty scrawny group of beetles."

After verifying that the small second wave of beetles did in fact produce larvae, she said she returned to the site Aug. 30 to check results.

"So I set up the traps with the bait and everything and went back the next morning, and lo and behold, we had two beetles out there -- a male and a female," she said. "This is the first time we've captured adults. This was a big deal. It was only two beetles, but it was definitely a milestone for us, so it was exciting."

In the fourth year of releases, Pritchard said, the two are the first adults to be found on site. She said she hopes the new summer release date will better jibe with their cycle of reproduction and burrowing underground to remain dormant during the winter.

"Hopefully next year we focus all our efforts into a release that's in the middle of summer -- late June. That way we'll get better success," she said. "Because if the two we found were a result of only 25 beetles, imagine what would happen if we had 250 beetles."

Flamingo chicks up and running

Two of the newest members of the Cincinnati Zoo's interpretive collection burst onto the scene in July. The 2- and 3-week-old greater flamingo chicks-in-training spent several weeks during the summer strengthening their legs, acclimating to humans and learning to stay in a group so they could join their adult counterparts on morning walks.

Now fully a part of the flock, or the flamboyance, babies Lindy and Calypso feel right at home walking and sometimes running with the adults, said wild animal interpreter Keri Ann Couch. Just like human children, she said, sometimes they'll get bursts of energy and charge ahead.

"So it's really interesting when you encounter people who are way down the path, and suddenly the flamingos will catch up with them," she said. "And they'll see we're behind, so they wait up for us, and they're, like, aren't you guys coming with us? So we speed walk and catch up with them."

Although they are able to keep up with the grownups, the chicks can still easily be identified, since their coloring is still predominantly gray and white, said Maura Messerly, manager of wild encounters. She said their feathers and legs will fully transition to light pink during the next few years due to their diet of shrimp and krill.

Following their morning constitutional, the babies relax with the rest of the adult non-interpretive flamingos in the wading pool. Messerly said that, all in all, they've adjusted incredibly well.

"The two of them are always together, so they found a lot of confidence in hanging out with the other baby," she said. "So we would sort of make that our rule to never separate the two of them when we put them with the adults. It seems that when they're together or with the other interpretive adults, they do gain that confidence to be with the other flamingos."

Cincinnati Zoo nursery head keeper Dawn Strasser and Aussie shepherd Blakely raised young Dale the takin.

When Harry and Sally met Dale

No, it's not another Hollywood reboot of a nostalgic franchise. It's the heart-warming story of a family reunited. A year-and-a-half ago, Dale the takin found himself in the zoo's nursery after first-time mom Sally seemed confused about what to do with her newborn. Enter nursery and quarantine head keeper Dawn Strasser and resident nursery Australian shepherd Blakely to save the day.

After raising Dale to a healthy age and weight, keepers began a gradual reintroduction process back with Mom and Dad. Reuniting young animals with adults is especially important, explained Wildlife Canyon senior keeper Ashley O'Connell, since the youngsters learn so many behavior cues from adults.

The Cincinnati Zoo's Dale the takin.

"You don't want to take an animal away for too long. Obviously we want to do what we can to keep them alive. That's our first priority. But once they're healthy and good to go, it's nice to get them back with their family so they know socially how to behave," she said. "So that was important to get Dale back and (for him to) learn to behave around other adults."

Now a teen and weighing in at nearly 400 pounds, Dale hardly resembles the tiny 50-pound calf that would roughhouse with Blakely and compete to sleep on Strasser's lap. Once fully grown, O'Connell said, he will weigh somewhere in the 700-pound range like his father, Harry. Since takins hail from the mountainous regions of Asia, she said, they're starting to become more and more active as the temperatures drop.

"They get a nice coat in the wintertime. They're definitely a winter animal," she said. "So now's the best time to see them here at the zoo, because when they have snow on them, that's when they're the happiest."

Cincinnati Zoo red panda LiWu eagerly awaits a treat.

Red pandas revisited

The last time we checked, vision-impaired Beilei had just moved into the red panda retirement condo with senior LiWu. Since the species tends to be territorial and solitary, the mood was initially strained, said senior keeper at Wildlife Canyon Lissa Browning. However, she said, she's happy to report the girls seem to be cohabitating well.

"They've figured out where they belong and who's in charge," she said. "They're getting along much better than they were before."

With the Festival of Lights just around the corner, Browning said, LiWu has been busy painting to meet the upcoming Christmas demand for her work. During her artistic career, Browning said, LiWu has sold hundreds of paintings, raising in excess of $8,000. All proceeds go to the Red Panda Species Survival Plan and to the Red Panda Network.

LiWu the red panda's paintings have raised more than $8,000 for the Red Panda Species Survival Plan and the Red Panda Network.

Since LiWu was unable to reproduce when she came to the Cincinnati Zoo 10 years ago, because she was extremely obese, painting is her way of helping others of her kind, Browning said.

"Even though she wasn't able to have babies, she's still able to contribute to the survival of her species in her own way," she said.

While they've tried to introduce Beilei to painting, Browning said, she seems a bit too prissy about getting paint on her fur. When LiWu feels inspired, they spread out a canvas and paints. The senior artist then walks through the paint onto the canvas, leaving bold foot and tail strokes.

"It's all up to her. If she doesn't want to do it, she doesn't do it," Browning said. "I've been doing it with her since the beginning. So we built that relationship. But some days it's like, 'No, that ain't happening.'"

And while red panda paintings make great gifts, red pandas themselves do not, Browning said. In China, she noted, the animals are often poached for the pet trade because of their adorable appearance. But after they repeatedly mark everything, leaving their strong, lasting scent, many people dump them at zoos or simply turn them out.

"It really is a big problem in China for the illegal pet trade, and they are working on it, and they're trying to stop it, but it's just very hard to do," she said. "The truth is they just don't make good pets."

Learning to get along at the Cincinnati Zoo, LiWu and Beilei coexist quite well.