Utah moms bundle up their broods to visit Hogle Zoo's moms and babes

Published: Sunday, May 11 2014 10:50 p.m. MDT

5-year-old Zuri and her mother, Christie, perform for their keeper on Mother's Day at Utah's Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City on Sunday, May 11, 2014.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY -- Jamie Larsen wasn't about to let a spring rainstorm deter her Mother's Day plans.

So she and her husband bundled up Marlee, 6, and Harrison, who is nearly 2, for fun, albeit chilly, visit to Utah's Hogle Zoo.

The Larsens recently purchased a season pass but had been unable to make it the zoo, largely because of inclement weather. "Today we finally we said, 'Let's just do it,' " Larsen said.

After serving mom breakfast in bed, the family headed up to the zoo. "I think I was more excited than my kids were," Larsen admitted.

"It's fun to see all the moms with their babies."

At the zoo's Elephant Encounter, African elephant mom and daughter Christie, 28, and Zuri, 4, were going through a training session, opening their mouths, lifting their legs, trumpeting and flapping their ears on command.

Training sessions serve the dual purpose of engaging the elephants in cognitive activty and teaching the elephants to move in ways that enable their keepers to render care and evaluate their health, said elephant keeper Rebecca Frustaci.

Christie "is a great mom," Frustaci said, noting that elephants carry their young for nearly two years.

"Mom is slowly weaning her. She's her only child so I think she's a little spoiled," Frustaci said.

Zuri also lives with her grandmother, Hy Dari, who at 54, is the oldest African elephant living in an American zoo. "They're very family oriented," Frustaci said.

The three live as they would in the wild, with related females and their young living in family groups dominated by matriarchs. Young males are sent away once they reach sexual maturity.

The elephants were a hit with Maegan and Ryan Lokteff, who were enjoying Mother's Day at the zoo with their son, 2-year-old Curran.

"It's just cool to see the different animals. We talk a lot about how they take care of each other," Maegan Lokteff said.

When zoo mothers are unable to care for their young, Hogle Zoo animal keepers are resourceful at feeding babies and teaching them other skills they need to survive.

Take Thai, the zoo's nearly 2-year-old white-handed gibbon, for example. Thai's mother, Candy, now 31, wasn't able to produce enough milk to nurse her son so he had to be hand raised.

"Instead of crawling, we had to teach him how to swing to get a bottle," said Emma Whitney, primary primate building keeper.

Watching Thai freely navigate the tree in the gibbon enclosure, his human role models obviously did a good job teaching him the ropes. "They will play all day long," Whitney said, who has been a part of Thai's life since birth.

"I got to be here for everything with Thai. It's been an amazing thing to watch."

Email: marjorie@deseretnews.com

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