'Madagascar!' exhibit to open Saturday at Hogle Zoo

Published: Saturday, May 16 2009 12:00 a.m. MDT

A Magascar Hissing Cockroach is part of Hogle Zoo's new summer Madagascar exhibit that opens Friday in Salt Lake City.

Tom Smart, Deseret News

A Hollywood "villain" is set to be the newest star at Utah's Hogle Zoo.

Fossa, the largest mammalian carnivore on the island of Madagascar and a bad guy in the first animated "Madagascar" movie, steal the show at the zoo's new summer exhibit, "Madagascar!" which opens Saturday.

The new attraction features a small taste of Madagascar, which is dominated by some 150,000 unique animals and plants found nowhere else on earth. Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world and is situated off the southeast coast of Africa.

Besides a pair of fossa, there are tree boa snakes, a radiated tortoise, a Madagascar hissing cockroach and a small Madagascar tenrecs, which resembles a hedgehog.

"Some kids think it's just a movie," said Nate Strong, a member of Hogle Zoo's animal care staff who took the lead in putting the new exhibit together.

"He's the star," Strong said of the male fossa, weighing about 25 pounds. "He's very curious."

The fossa, of which only about 2,500 are believed to exist, are very secretive and only about 20 U.S. zoos have them. These two are on loan from the San Diego Zoo. The female, about half the size of the male, is much more secretive.

During the advance press tour of the exhibit Friday, the male fossa perched on a branch near the walkway just sat there watching many cameras click away.

Holly Braithwaite, zoo spokeswoman, said she wasn't sure what to think of the fossa. To her, they seemed a mixture of a cat, a bear, a dog, a weasel and a mountain lion. The slender-bodied animals may grow up to 6-feet long from nose to tail tip and weigh up to 26 pounds. Though related to mongoose, they bear little resemblance to them.

Madagascar is about the size of Texas, but has now lost 90 percent of its open, wild territory where exotic animals live to crop lands, Strong said.

Besides saving people a trip overseas to Madagascar, Strong hopes the exhibit will increase public awareness to save these endangered creatures.

"We want to offer something new every year," Braithwaite said.

Radiated turtles are named for their unusual shells, which protrude out from the center. The zoo has had the turtles for more than 10 years, but they fit nicely into the new exhibit. The same for the tenrecs and the cockroach.

The boas are on loan from the Fresno Chaffee Zoo in California.

The new exhibit will be at Hogle Zoo, 2600 E. Sunnyside Ave., through the end of September and open during regular zoo hours, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Strollers or wagons are not allowed in the Madagascar exhibit, but plenty of parking space is available outside. The inside of the display is a warm, tropical environment.

It is located in the same rotating display building where the zoo has held previous special summer exhibits.

For more information, go to www.hoglezoo.org. Hogle Zoo is also on both Facebook and Twitter, with new photographs and information.

E-MAIL: lynn@desnews.com

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